Public Debate Series

Boston College was founded in 1863 and Dean Father Robert Fulton, S.J., established a debating society in 1868. In the early years, interested students gathered to argue the issues of the day. According to the minutes from these meetings, the first topic debated was "Is the art of printing productive of more good than evil?"

Over time, the debating society grew and prospered and, in 1890, the students voted to name their society in honor of Father Fulton. In 1895, another consequential event occurred when Boston College hosted Georgetown University in the first debate between two Jesuit college. In 1898, the Society invited the Forum from neighboring Harvard University to the Heights for a public debate attended by a large crowd in College Hall. Oddly enough, the topic for both of these early debates was taxation. More than 100 years later, the Society still engages in debate with Georgetown and Harvard and federal tax policy remains an issue of controversy.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Fultonians engaged in public debates with regional rivals (such as Harvard and Holy Cross) and traveling teams (from Oxford and Cambridge). After World War II, intercollegiate debate changed with a new emphasis on tournament debating. Instead of a single debate between two colleges, a host school would invite teams from a number of colleges to engage in a series of round-robin debates over two or three days. At the end of the tournament, one team was declared the champion.

Beginning in the mid 1950s, the Fulton Debating Society began to travel to tournaments involving teams from colleges in New England. By the early 1960s, the Fultonians were traveling to tournaments across the country and regularly qualifying to attend the prestigious National Debate Tournament. Boston College first qualified to attend the NDT in 1962 and has been represented at the tournament by thirty-eight teams over the decades that followed.

While the Society’s focus shifted beyond the campus, the Fulton Prize Debate remained an annual campus tradition each spring. In an effort to reach out to the Boston College community, the Society inaugurated a new public debate series during the 2008-2009 Academic Year. This format also allows the Fultonians to focus on their oratory, a unique opportunity as tournament debating generally privileges argumentation over eloquence.

The format for the public debates was altered from the tournament format so that the entire debate could be completed in less than one hour. To fit within this limit, the time limits for the four constructive speeches were reduced to 6 minutes. Because the interaction which occurs during the cross-examination periods is frequently the most entertaining part of the debate for the audience, the time limits for the four cross-examination periods were increased from the standard 3 minutes to 4 minutes. After the constructive speeches, the debate stops for 5 minutes to allow members of the audience to ask questions to the debaters. To conclude the debate, each side gives a four minute rebuttal speech. The winner is determined by a division of the house.