[Ndca-l] Judge Conflicts

Jim Menick jim.menick
Mon Feb 24 11:24:05 EST 2014


(I'm cross-posting this to coachean.blogspot.com and referencing it on the
NDCA Facebook page. This is my own material, and does not represent the
opinion of anyone but me.)


The issue of conflicts has concerned me for a while, and recent experiences
have demonstrated that it is an area of, at the very least, confusion.
Simply going by the dictionary definition of the word conflict, it is
obvious that where conflicts exist between students and judges, there is
the potential for biased adjudication. Since it is inarguable that
tournaments must be run fairly, it is important that conflicts are clearly
defined, understood and implemented. I polled a few of my local coaches,
who offered opinions on the subject, and have followed some discussions
taking place online. I'll be incorporating some of that here in aid of
suggesting a set of best practices, as well as raising some questions that
go beyond the scope of implementing clearly defined conflicts at our
tournaments. (Since some of this material is sensitive and acquired through
private discussions, I will presume that those I communicated with would
prefer I maintain their privacy.)



*First of all, I offer this overarching definition of a judge
conflict: **Conflicts
are situations where debaters are given an unfair advantage by their judge.
*



Here are two examples of conflict statements from tournaments this season,
aimed at coaches:

?      *Judges with whom you or your student have a close personal
relationship, judges whose students regularly share in the cost of travel
with your team or individual debaters, judges who are a significant other
or a relative, and judges whose students share prep with your students. *

?      *Former students who are judging for another school; B) Former
coaches, if there are still team members they coached present on the squad;
C) College directors/coaches who are recruiting a student from your
program: D) Coaches or College Students you've hired to do work for your
school or collaborated with to do work, even if it's been at only one
tournament (Work includes direct coaching or argument/card cutting); E)
Most importantly the judges/coaches who are currently working with your
program.*



The NDCA goes at it from the other direction, telling the judges rather
than the coaches whom to conflict, listing the following exhaustive set of
examples:

*You should mark as a conflict any student:*

?      *whose high school you attended in recent years;*

?      *to whom you are related;*

?      *who attends a school with whom you have had a coaching or judging
relationship, paid or unpaid, during the past two school years (does not
apply if your only relationship to a school was as a hired judged at that
school's tournament);*

?      *who attends a school that has offered to hire you to coach or judge
in the future;*

?      *for whom you have ever had primary instructional responsibility as,
e.g., a school coach or a personal coach*

?      *with whom you have or have in the past had personal friendships or
romantic relationships, or with whom you socialize in non-debate settings;*

?      *who personally has provided your transportation or housing at this
tournament, or who attends a school that has provided your transportation
or housing at this tournament;*

?      *who has been hired by, or who has an outstanding explicit or
implicit offer from, a debate business (e.g., workshop or brief company) to
which you have financial ties.*

?      *if your current, or in the past two years, coach of record is
currently coaching the student.*

?      *If you coach or debate for a college/university, any student that
is debating for your program next year or whom your school is still
actively recruiting.*

?      *with whose coach(es) you have or have in the past had romantic
relationships.*

?      *to whom you bear any other relationship that might reasonably be
thought to compromise your impartiality as a judge.  To determine whether a
relationship meets this test, you might ask yourself, "If I were a
competing student and knew nothing about my judge except that he or she
bore the relationship in question to my competitor or my competitors coach,
would I have any doubts about his or her impartiality?"  If the answer is
"yes," you should mark students to whom you bear that relationship as
conflicts.*



>From these three examples, we can easily draw the conclusion that the
potential conflicts that are being avoided are those where a judge would
possibly be seen as being prejudiced in favor of a debater. This is not to
necessarily assume that they will always be so prejudiced, but even the
appearance of favoritism should be avoided in a fair competition. This
supports our definition, *Conflicts are situations where debaters are given
an unfair advantage by their judge.*



*Second, tournaments need to publish statements explaining the nature of
conflicts.* Given the fact that people can interpret even a straightforward
definition a variety of ways, the statement about the nature of conflicts
should be as clear as possible. I would suggest the overarching definition
above, followed by the descriptive list from the NDCA, edited as below to
be read from either the competitors' or the judges' perspective.



*A judge conflict exists with a student:*

?      *whose high school the judge attended in recent years;*

?      *to whom the judge is related;*

?      *who attends a school with whom the judge has had a coaching or
judging relationship, paid or unpaid, during the past two school years
(does not apply if the only relationship to a school was as a hired judged
at that school's tournament);*

?      *who attends a school that has offered to hire the judge to coach or
judge for the team**[1]* <#_ftn1>* in the future;*

?      *for whom the judge has ever had primary instructional
responsibility as, e.g., a school coach or a personal coach*

?      *with whom the judge has or has had in the past personal friendships
or romantic relationships, or with whom the judges socializes in non-debate
settings;*

?      *who personally has provided a judge's transportation or housing at
this tournament, or who attends a school that has provided the judge's
transportation or housing at this tournament;*

?      *who has been hired by, or who has an outstanding explicit or
implicit offer from, a debate business (e.g., workshop or brief company) to
which the judge has financial ties.*

?      *if the judge's current, or in the past two years, coach of record
is currently coaching the student.*

?      *If the judge coaches or debates for a college/university, any
student that is debating for the judge's program next year or whom the
judge's school is still actively recruiting.*

?      *with whose coach(es) the judge has or had in the past had romantic
relationships.*

?      *to whom the judge bears any other relationship that might
reasonably be thought to compromise the judge's impartiality as a judge.
To determine whether a relationship meets this test, the judge might ask,
"If I were a competing student and knew nothing about my judge except that
he or she bore the relationship in question to my competitor or my
competitors coach, would I have any doubts about his or her impartiality?"
If the answer is "yes," that is a conflict.*



*Third, tournaments need to provide a mechanism for both the teams and the
judges to declare their conflicts. *



On the team registration side, this is done online easily enough in
advance, at least on tabroom.com, and I don't think we need anything
further (aside from clearer explanations of conflicts). But on the judge
side, this is not easy, and it is not done as well as it should be, if it
is done at all. On-site tournament registrations tend to be confused
affairs even under the best of circumstances. There may or may not be a
separate judge check-in, and there may or may not be an attempt to get
conflicts from judges on-site. Polling judges for their conflicts
beforehand doesn't necessarily work because there are no accepted
mechanisms in place to do so. I have requested that tabroom.com add a
feature where judges attending a tournament can, in advance, see the
debater list and mark themselves as conflicts. Meanwhile, I would suggest
that all tournaments have a separate check-in for *all* judges, independent
or accompanying a team, at which is obtained their phone numbers and email
addresses (for the tab room to locate them if they wander off), and at
which they mark a sheet with all of their conflicts.



*Fourth, strict penalties need to be applied to abuses.*



Most unfortunately, on the team registration side, a separate system for
noting conflicts does not prevent students from either not conflicting
obvious conflicts--examples have been cited of teams not only not marking
clear-cut conflicts, but actually putting in those conflicts as their top
prefs--or from adding to their legitimate strikes and/or preferences as many
"conflicts" as they wish that are actually not conflicts at all, as defined
above, but simply judges they do not wish to be judged by. The first of
these is clearly an ethical violation, and can be addressed as such with a
punishment depending on the decision of the tournament director and the
severity of the violation, ranging from at the minimum the removal of all
the offending team's prefs up to disqualification from the competition for
that team or that team's entire school. Judges found guilty of such ethical
violations on their end should be summarily removed from the tournament; if
they are tournament hires they should forfeit any payment they would have
received.



The second example in the paragraph above was, in fact, what led me to my
belief that a clear and universal definition of conflict is sorely needed,
insofar as at one tournament recently two schools were discovered to be
independently conflating their (unlimited) conflicts with their (limited)
strikes, something we only learned about by happenstance and for all we
know may not have been restricted to only those schools. Neither school was
attempting to break the rules; both were honestly addressing real areas of
concern, blocking judges they felt could not objectively judge their
students. But the lack of judge objectivity was not because of favoritism,
which is now our definition of debate conflict establish above, but because
of potential prejudice against their students.



Before diving into this, remember that some tournaments offer simple
strikes, some offer preferencing that includes strikes, and some offer
nothing at all to bar judges from seeing students. And the same tournament
can offer well-structured MJP in some divisions and no strikes at all in
another (usually PF). Tournament directors need to think about how they're
running their events, and if they're best serving the teams that attend
their competitions. An event with absolutely no strikes and no way to bar a
judge is open to more problematic situations than an event that offers
full-fledged MJP. I have already strongly come out in favor of MJP in
varsity LD at the high school level (and by extension, high school varsity
policy); I am similarly in favor of a reasonable number of strikes (but not
MJP) in varsity PF. At least some of what I'm about to discuss can be
avoided by a reasonable set of preventatives. Some of it, however, requires
stronger solutions outside of the subject of strikes and conflicts.



*Fifth: There needs to be a clear delineation between conflicts and
strikes.* I offer the following overarching statement: *Situations where
you feel a judge is prejudiced against any of your students, for any
reason, should be handled by strikes, and not by conflicts.*



Because I knew about the strike/conflict situation before I polled that
handful of my colleagues I mentioned earlier, I proposed the following
example of what would, to my mind, be a strike: *A tournament that allows
both strikes and conflicts is offering PF and announces that it is using
prominent community judges. One of these judges is an elected official on
the record as vigorously opposed to gay marriage; this same official has,
also on the record, claimed that "the Bible is definitive against
homosexuality, which is wrong in the eyes of God." A PF team attending the
tournament comprises two acknowledged gay males, activists in their
school's GLBT organization, running a case that is gay-rights based. They
do not want this elected official to judge them. There is nothing in any of
our descriptions of conflict that makes this official a conflict. Therefore
they must use one of their strikes.*



One could easily claim that this should be a conflict, since the judge in
question would be undoubtedly prejudiced against those debaters, but as
we've said, conflicts are for when a debater is prejudiced in *favor* of
your debaters. Further, while it is easy to provide a list of concrete
situations where a conflict as we've defined it can be determined
objectively, prejudices against debaters do not so easy fit limited,
objective criteria. "This judge is a racist and my students are
African-American," or "This judge is a sexist and my students are young
women," or "This judge is a homophobe and my students are gay," require
that we make a subjective value judgment about a judge's character,
whereas, "This judge is paid to coach my student," is a statement of fact.
Strike the one, conflict the other. If we allow schools to mark as
conflicts people they perceive of as prejudiced against their students, it
is impossible for us to draw any line limiting that definition of
prejudice, and there is nothing to stop a school from conflicting virtually
every judge that might potentially drop them.



(And it is beside the point--my interest here is practical tournament
management--to go into some of the ramifications of the political currents
running through debate today, on which I am not particularly knowledgeable,
but I will point out that these statements of potential judge bias are not
only provocative, but potentially slanderous. Is the judge a sexist because
he didn't pick up a feminist kritik, or because he assaulted a girl on the
stairway? There's a big difference between a ballot and real life.)



I'm publishing a condensed version of the above, with the recommendations
but not the explanations, for tournament directors to take under advisement
as they see fit. The version for teams is
http://www.jimmenick.com/vault/conflicts_teams.pdf; the version for judges
is http://www.jimmenick.com/vault/conflicts_judges.pdf. These can, of
course, be adjusted for specific tournaments.



____________________



But I see more to it than that. I am also publishing a separate document
discussing a different aspect of this issue.

------------------------------

[1] <#_ftnref1> "for the team" added by me for clarity
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