A presidential decision

Magaram wins the 2011 Radcliffe Hicks Prize

April 15, 2011  |  By Courtney Coelho |  401-863-7287
It would have been perfectly excusable if the debaters in the Radcliffe Hicks Prize tournament finals on April 13, 2011,  were a little more nervous than usual. Seated in the front row in the auditorium of Smith-Buonanno Hall was President Ruth J. Simmons, one of five judges for the final round of debates.

Speaking persuasively, organizing thoughts on the flySam Magaram presents his points during the 2011 Radcliffe Hicks Prize Competition sponsored by the Brown Debating Union. The competition has been held since 1882. Credit: Michael Cohea/Brown UniversitySpeaking persuasively, organizing thoughts on the fly
Sam Magaram presents his points during the 2011 Radcliffe Hicks Prize Competition sponsored by the Brown Debating Union. The competition has been held since 1882. Credit: Michael Cohea/Brown University

The event has a long history at the University: The Brown Debating Union has hosted the Radcliffe Hicks competition since 1882. This was the first time Simmons has served as a judge. Tournament director Gabriel Schwartz ’13 says the group made a point of planning the event around Simmons’ schedule so that she could attend. Traditionally the tournament consists of five 30-minute rounds. There are some big prizes on the line: $1,500 for second place and $2,000 for first place.

Sam Magaram ’12 and Dan Sherrell ’13 found themselves in the final round and face-to-face with Simmons and the other judges after four hard-won rounds over two days. Both had to present their arguments based on the statement, “Brown should accept research funding from private corporations, under the conditions that the funding corporations could patent the resulting research if they so wish.”

The judgment: All debaters were “super-smart”President Ruth J. Simmons, Nathaniel Baum-Snow, Richard Bungiro, and two other judges had to choose between excellence and more excellence. Credit: Michael Cohea/Brown UniversityThe judgment: All debaters were “super-smart”
President Ruth J. Simmons, Nathaniel Baum-Snow, Richard Bungiro, and two other judges had to choose between excellence and more excellence. Credit: Michael Cohea/Brown University

A coin toss determined that Magaram would take the affirmative stance and Sherrell would oppose. Each student made a strong case on the fly, furiously scribbling talking points on paper as the other presented his points. Magaram argued that allowing research to be privately funded would enhance the University’s profile and provide more research opportunities for students and faculty, while Sherrell asserted that doing so would give Brown the image of “selling out” and limit research opportunities by handing control over to the funding corporations.

Following the debate, the judges were given 15 minutes to deliberate. In addition to Simmons, the other judges were Shiva Balaghi, postdoctoral fellow in the Cogut Humanities Center; Richard Bungiro, lecturer in biology; Kurt Teichert, environmental stewardship initiatives manager; and Nathaniel Baum-Snow, assistant professor of economics. All agreed that both debaters did a great job of presenting their points, deeming them “super smart,” but in the end they decided that it was Magaram who made the stronger argument. A reception followed the debate, where Simmons added her congratulations to the finalists and mingled with students.