Should Judges Time Rounds?

Should judges time rounds or may they rely on debaters’ cross-timing? At one time the community norm was unequivocal – judges had to time (and if necessary give debaters time signals). Debaters as a general rule didn’t time their own speeches. Today on many circuits timing practices are much more equivocal. Debaters are generally expected to time themselves  and each other, though they often do so haphazardly.  Does the judge have a responsibility to make sure time is kept correctly?

I tend to believe that judges should time rounds. It is a failsafe for when debaters’ timers fail or when debaters accidentally give themselves or their opponents too much or too little time. It is also a check on debaters stealing prep time, or using an unreasonable amount of time “off the clock” to transfer files or organize papers.

In many rounds, though, judges elect not to time and instead rely on the debaters “cross-timing” one another. For some reason this seems to be particularly prevalent in out-rounds. There are several possible arguments in favor of this approach. Many judges presume that debaters should be responsible for policing themselves, and that the appropriate checks on timing abuses are good faith and an opponent guarding her right to a fair round. Certainly not having to time makes judging easier, which may arguably improve the judging experience and improve the quality of decisions (i.e. judges can focus on writing on ballots or backflowing rather than watching the clock).

So, should judges time rounds or may they rely on debaters’ cross-timing?

  • I'm a little torn on this one. On the one hand, I definitely don't want to be timing. Judging is painful enough. On the other hand, I do feel bad for kids who are exploited by nihilists. Cross-timing should generally check this, but some debaters will borrow their opponent's timer (thus preventing both from timing). When cross-timing isn't possible, some 3rd party should probably keep time.Back in the day, it always seemed like there was an audience member who would happily keep time. Another reason more people should be watching out-rounds!

  • I have to respectfully disagree. I find it extremely distracting, as a judge, to have to time. Sure it was fun in middle school but by High School the students should be capable of both doing this themselves and being honest about it. I can't imagine how distracting it would be (for everyone) to give time signals to a varsity debater.I would also hope that the debaters themselves would want me to be concentrating on what they're saying and not worrying about hand signals. etc. "A distracted judge is a detriment to all"Plus- it adds to the educational value of the event if the debater has to set his/her own limits: in the real world the debater will have both self-imposed and 'other' (employer, government, etc) imposed time limits. By learning how to manage his/her time under pressure in the more controlled environment of the debate round, he/she will be better able to cope when the stakes really matter…