Sailfish Debate & Forensics

The School of Communication and Media, and the Department of Communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University, are initiating a debate and forensics program in the Fall semester of 2018. This program will provide many opportunities for students at the university to participate in intercollegiate debate and forensics tournaments in the coming years.

During our first year we will concentrate on the basic requirements of intercollegiate competition in different formats. These include NDT (National Debate Tournament) policy debates, CEDA (Cross-Examination Debate Association) values debates, and individual events, such as extemporaneous speaking and oratory. We plan to participate in one or more tournaments in our first year, including the FIFA (Florida Intercollegiate Forensics Association tournament) in the winter of 2019, as well as staging campus-wide debate exhibitions and recruitment events.

We are looking for interested PBA students to join our program. You may wish to enroll in the Debate and Forensics Lab (COM 3041) a one-credit course that you may enroll in for up to six semesters toward your Communication major, or up to eight consecutive semesters with some as part of your university-wide electives. You may contact professor Robert Fortner for further information about the 2018-19 debate and forensics activities.


Interested in Sailfish Debate and Forensics but have a few questions? Choose the category below to see common questions asked about the program. 

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Frequestly Asked Questions About College Debate:

How many classes are missed for travel? In our first year (2018-19) you will miss no more than six classes over the two semesters, and probably fewer. Since we are just getting underway, our travel schedule will depend on how quickly students can prepare for intercollegiate competition. Once the program is established, if you are selected as one of our most prepared competitors, you may miss up to twelve classes each year. Most tournaments occur from Saturday through Monday. This would require traveling on Friday and returning on Monday evening. We drive to any venue that is within 500 miles and fly to others that are further away. Students all receive written notices to provide to their professors when they are away for a tournament, which provides an excused absence for participation in a university-sponsored event.

Should I participate in debate during my freshman year? Definitely. The more experience you gain over your years at PBA, the more proficient you will be, the more tournaments you will likely do well in, and the more confident you will become on issues of vital national concern. Your skills as a speaker, especially as an extemporaneous speaker, will be honed to a high level and you will become well-spoken in nearly any context, from job interviews, to business presentations, community meetings, and as a member of the bar, should you choose law as a profession.

Can I be involved in other activities if I join debate? Yes. Few students at PBA devote all their time to a single student activity. Although debate and forensics activity is time intensive, there is time for involvement in such activities as bible studies, workship, worship activities, student government, even sports, although this would require careful planning and prioritization.

What other things can I do in debate besides travel to tournaments? Although the focus of the debate and forensics program at PBA is preparation and participation in tournament activities, we also plan to demonstrate to other students the value of public debate on controversial policy issues by staging on-campus activities in both public speaking and competitive debate.

Can I receive college credit for debate participation? Yes! You may receive up to eight college credits, one for each semester of participation in the program. These would be general electives unless you are a major in the Communication program. Then you can count three credits toward a requirement in the major, and another three credits as electives in the major. The remaining two credits would be general electives.

What if I have further questions? Contact Dr. Robert Fortner at

Frequestly Asked Questions about the team:

How do I join the debate and forensics team? Sailfish Debate and Forensics has no formal audition process. All students are welcome. Simply sign up for COM 3041 each semester if you wish to have college credit for participating, or merely show up on Mondays at 4 pm if you want to be involved without credit. Either way students receive instruction, practice, and critique for their participation and for their contribution to the team’s research effort on the university debate topic. The team meets once each week. Once teams are created (2-persons) they are expected to work together on case assignments and mock debates. The resources devoted to each participant, or team, in terms of travel, food, and housing, in addition to participation fees, will depend on the level they contribute to the collective team. If you would like to join the team, merely contact Dr. Robert Fortner.

Who coaches the debate and forensics team? The coach of PBA’s Sailfish Debate and Forensics team is Dr. Robert Fortner. He was an active debater and participant in individual forensics events while a student at Otterbein University. He won multiple state championships in novice debate, four-man debate, two-man debate, extemporaneous speaking and original oratory. He also debated in NDT tournaments as an undergraduate. He then served as a teaching assistant in debate at Indiana University before completing his Ph.D. at the University of Illinois. He teaches Communication Theory and Research, Communication Ethics, Intercultural Communication, Introduction to Media, Public Speaking, Global Digital Media Ethics, and new courses in Civil Discourse, Conflict Resolution, and Negotiation and Mediation Strategies. He is working on his eleventh published book.

Once the program is well-established, senior level students will assist as assistant coaches. Other Communication faculty will critique student preparations as part of preparation for individual forensics events.

How many students participate in debate and forensics? We don’t know yet, since the Fall semester 2018 will be our first semester of Sailfish Debate and Forensics. But you can help us fill out our roster of competitors.

How are debate teammates determined? Several factors are important in determining debate partners. These include, first, the amount of commitment of students to mastering the topic of each year’s NDT and CEDA tournaments, which includes such activities as researching the topic, preparing case cards, writing affirmative and negative cases, and participating in mock debates to prepare for competition. Second is chemistry between potential partners. Partners need to be comfortable with each other’s expertise on the topic and their ability to respond to novel arguments from opponents. The most important positions in a debate are the second affirmative and the second negative speakers, who are usually team captains. The strongest debaters are assigned to these positions. Debaters must also be skilled in conducting, and responding to, cross-examinations on their presentations. The primary decision about partners is made by the coach, but he seeks input from the students themselves. Since debate and forensics is an intercollegiate competition, we want to field the strongest teams we can.

Is debate and forensics an individual or a team activity? It is both. Debate is a team activity, while forensics involves individuals engaged in different types of speaking events. However, most forensics competitions also create team standings so overall winners can be determined.

Frequestly Asked Questions about debating for PBA:

How well would participation in debate and forensics prepare me for graduate or law school? In both cases engagement in debate is a particularly valuable activity for those going on to graduate school. This is due to the high level of attention given in graduate education to independent research and problem-solving. Research is at the core of debate, as is the construction and defense of arguments, all of which are valuable skills to have when beginning graduate education of any kind. Public speaking, including both debate and forensics, also prepare you well both for oral arguments in law school and oral defenses of theses and dissertations in graduate school. With a background such as that provided by involvement in debate and forensics as an undergraduate, you will be better prepared for advanced education than most of your contemporaries.

Is high school debate experience required to participate in Sailfish debate and forensics? No. Although such participation may enable you to get off to a quicker start as an intercollegiate debater, others will quickly catch up if they are seriously engaged. The arguments made and the research upon which they are based, is more sophisticated at the university level, so anyone who joins this activity will have to improve his or her game to be competitive.

How much time is required to participate in PBA’s debate and forensics program? This depends on you. It depends on your abilities, motivation and level of interest. Participation in any worthwhile activity is time consuming. In addition to the weekly team meetings, debaters and speakers conduct extensive library research, create case files and argument briefs, participate in practice rounds, and travel to tournaments. The amount of time any student commits to debate will have a large impact on the assignment of a teammate and the selection of tournaments to participate in.

How many tournaments can I expect to participate in at PBA? The amount of travel is determined by the team’s annual budget and the coach’s distribution of this budget. You will not be asked to travel when you would prefer not to. Students who do travel to tournaments are those who have made the most significant contributions to the team’s needs and level of preparedness. Some teams will participate in as few as two tournaments each semester, while others may travel to five or six each semester once the program has become established. This will likely take us a couple of academic years.

What types of tournaments does PBA participate in? Since we are just getting started, part of the answer to this question will depend on the interests of the students who join the activity. There are several different types of debate formats, including Lincoln-Douglas, Parliamentary, NDT and CEDA. There will be 2-man debate and 4-man debate tournaments. There will be tournaments that emphasize individual events such as extemp, oratory, and interp and others that will include both debate and forensics. We will try to participate in those that will involve the most students so that everyone has a chance to travel and represent PBA in the intercollegiate debate and forensics world.