Among the myriad pre-game traditions for “The Game” between Harvard and Yale is the staging of the annual HBS-Yale SOM Leadership & Ethics Debate. This year’s debate took place in New Haven on Friday, November 21 in front of a raucous crowd of over 200 spectators. Despite breaking bread prior to the debate, both sides were ready for battle. The gloves came off early with the HBS captain’s opening. He noted that when Yale SOM needed to hire a Dean, it turned to someone who is both an alumnus of HBS and a former member of the HBS faculty. The SOM team countered with numerous references to Harvard College alumnus Al Gore, and his invention of the Internet.
HBS won the coin toss and chose to be the proposition (the team supporting the motion). The motion was “that the federal government, rather than business, should encourage and assist the US in becoming energy independent.” The HBS team took a two-pronged approach, arguing that business and government partnerships could be used to support its assertion, while also recognizing that if the team was forced to make the case that the government had to act by itself, it was clear that only government – however imperfect – could solve the collective action problems inherent in delivering energy independence. The team cited the Manhattan Project and the effort to put a man on the moon as examples of successful government-private sector cooperation.
The HBS team argued that business alone could not deliver energy independence, and so the United States government must encourage and assist business (with tax breaks, research grants, etc.).
The debate became technical very quickly. The first SOM speaker argued that the HBS team could not support any role for business while defending its motion, and that HBS had to argue government should do everything from pumping oil to selling hybrid cars. By this reasoning, it was the SOM team that was actually in a position to suggest that government and business should work together in partnership. While spirited at times – the SOM team went so far as to accuse the HBS team of being Communist – much of the remainder of the debate was not about energy independence but about the meanings of “rather than” and “encourage and assist.” The debate became a semantic slugfest.
The judges decided the burden of proof lay with the proposition, and if the proposition was not able to prove the motion, the opposition won by default. They said HBS made a more compelling case, but not compelling enough to prove the motion beyond reasonable doubt. Thus, they awarded the debate to the SOM team. With SOM winning on a technicality, the trophy remains in New Haven for another year. The HBS team is primed for next year, though, when the debate will be at HBS. Congratulations again to HBS participants Adrian Brown (NC), Michael Birshan (OB), Rob Bennett (ND) and Chimi Tornow (NJ), for a valiant effort and thank you to the HBS supporters who made the trip to New Haven.
Next up for the HBS Debate Team is the Leadership & Ethics Forum’s debate on grade disclosure. The debate will take place Wednesday, December 7 with the motion, “This House would allow grade disclosure.” The motion will be debated by six members of the HBS Debate Team. There then will be an opportunity for audience speeches and a final vote. Please come, listen to the arguments and have your say.