Harvard Debate Champs Lose to Team of Prisoners

Maximum-security inmates beat Ivy League's best
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 7, 2015 2:16 AM CDT
Prisoners 1, Harvard Debating Team 0
The campus of Harvard University is viewed through a gate in Cambridge, Mass.   (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

Next up, a debate with the parole board? The Ivy League's finest debate team was defeated by a team of prisoners from a maximum-security prison in New York state. The three-man Eastern New York Correctional Facility team was declared the winner on Sept. 18 after debating for an hour with Harvard's team, which won the national title this year, the AP reports. In a Facebook post, the Harvard undergraduates said they were proud to lose to the "phenomenally intelligent and articulate team" of inmates. The prison team—which wasn't allowed to use the Internet for research—made the case against allowing undocumented children into public schools, a position with which they personally disagreed.

The three inmates, who are all serving time in Napanoch, New York, for violent crimes, have been studying as part of an initiative led by nearby Bard College. Before last month's Harvard debate, they had already scored victories against West Point and a University of Vermont team, reports the Wall Street Journal, which notes that very few of the inmates who've earned degrees under the nearly 15-year-old Bard program have ended up back behind bars. "Debating has changed our lives and this confirmed how powerful a tool education and debating can be," the president of the Harvard College Debating Union tells Boston.com. Harvard didn't go easy on the inmates because that would have been "incredibly disrespectful of their talent and work," he adds. (The biggest-ever mass release of federal prisoners will happen later this month.)

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