An interview with the Debating Club Founder

The introduction of the Mooting and Legal Debating module on the LLB has led to the creation of a debating club. Two volunteer positions for the management of the club were created as allocated seats to the Law and Mooting Societies Committees. The two founders are Saten Ayvazyan and Alexandros Theocharous. In my capacity as the Editor of the Law School Blog, I felt it was necessary to interview one of the respective founders.

The main motivation behind the creation of the club, in the words of Alexandros, was to start and develop a debating culture within the Cyprus campus. Through the enhancement of this culture, students should be able to develop their public speaking skills, charisma, and build confidence. The club was created with the view to attract attention from the entire university, not just the Law School.

As soon as the club was created, our protagonists began the development of their first competition. Collectively, they selected the rules, debate topics and promotional techniques. Their first step was to inform all the law students of their project. What distinguishes this club from similar clubs is the very nature of debates, as participating in the competition will, according to Alexandros, “enhance your argumentation and research skills, as well as thinking on your feet”. He further stated, “You are also attempting to persuade a crowd which takes a more political approach whereas in court you have to argue your clients interest only”.

As our conversation headed in the direction of the competition, Alexandros was kind enough to expand further on it. The rules of the competition as I am told, derive from the Legal Debating module, with minor alterations to ensure that prospective participants feel welcome and comfortable. The competition itself is not a championship but rather a series of single debates with topic changes for each debate series.  The format largely mirrors the precedent set by the first Mooting Society President Luka Vidanovic in his attempt to run a similar competition, key differences however exist. Firstly, the panel of student judges will be replaced by a Lecturer. According to Alexandros, this was a sensible decision as previous panels had trouble exercising crowd control. Secondly, matches will be conducted on 1 v 1 basis and not in teams. Nevertheless, similarly to the previous competition, the winner is determined democratically, through a majority vote from the attendees. In Alexandros’s words the debating club is trying to steer clear of the traditional notion of a judge and will emphasize crowd persuasion as one of the crucial elements which will determine the winner. The nature of the competition will be friendly, as the founders will attempt to hang out with the participants after each debate at the University Bar Lounge. Furthermore, due to Alexandros’s and Saten’s attempts to attract participants from the entire university, the topics for the debates are to be of a universal nature. In Alexandros’s words “through the topics, we plan to trigger people and make it an attractive option, trying to boost the enthusiasm of the students for it”. Students who have minimal experience in debating will be provided with basic information and tips on how to debate. Lastly, I am told that if the Debating Club receives enough attention and respect, it will be inviting guest speakers and other distinguished individuals in the future.

Once we finished ironing out the details regarding the creation of the club, and its inaugural competition, I had a few questions for Alexandros. The first question was regarding the division of labour and how Saten and Alexandros approach it. The answer provided was the following: “We are colleagues and classmates and we take upon specific jobs and issues. We do not divide the jobs exactly 50/50, and we take an easier approach, as long as the work is done we don’t really care about how the work is done”.

My next question was regarding the plans they hold for the future, one of the prospective ideas Alexandros mentioned was to hold debates in Greek, whilst another idea was to invite students from other universities to debate due to the university possessing the facilities to endorse such competitions.

Building up on his answer, I put forward the question as to whether it would be possible for the debate club to host academics debating. His response was the following: “The notion that the professors would debate in an interesting one, however we must be patient and take things slowly at the time.”

My next question was based on the statements made by Alexandros regarding students being able to improve their critical thinking and thinking on their feet. The question was whether the Debating club would consider keeping the topic of the debate secret and releasing it 10 or 20 minutes before the beginning of the match, creating a sense of urgency regarding the research and formulation of arguments. The response was that the main attraction to the debate was the topic. However, he proceeded, once the club has received enough attention and respect, it would be in a position to introduce a set of special rules which would make It a bit more original, unique and difficult.

We ended the interview with me requesting Alexandros to provide a message to the readers of this article, the message is the following: “The priority is always to perform well in university and to finish in a position capable to getting a job. It is also important to diversify your C.V. and gain extra skills which will help you down the line.”

Written by Artur Dobrota

Posted in Young Lawyers