[eDebate] Reconnecting debate to the academy-the case of UMKC
Mon Apr 17 15:38:33 CDT 2006
I couldn't help but enter this discussion because of what is happening at
UMKC now and over the course of the next season. Only LMC can know
everything about our interaction with the academy, but I assume that
everything I have been told is true and speak from such a perspective.
As it stands now, the UMKC program will not exist after next year's season.
Linda cut a deal with the department that allowed the program to be funded
for next year, but unless another deal is cut the program is done in 12
months. I wanted to chime in because of all the fuss about debate being
connected to the academy. perhaps if I explain what has gone on at UMKC it
will provide Dr Warner (and others in this discussion) with more information
to test their ideas.
Our program was very strongly connected to the academy. Linda has tenure,
and we were connected to the arts and sciences dean, head of the
communications department, provost, and the chancellor, as well as the vice
chancellor. These are all people who continuously supported the program.
Over the last few years it has become harder and harder to get money. A big
part of this has to do with the university's administration itself. There
has been a lot of shake-up in upper level positions, so it became harder to
build solid ties. I think it would be best to look at some of Ede and
Newman's thoughts and explain them in relation to UMKC.
As far as the "way we debate" and the academy:
No one in the administration knows what debate looks like when it is
practiced, and for the most part they don't care. When they hear "debate"
they just assume that it's very similar to the presidential stuff they see
on television. Our university (I think most universities) is run like a
business. The only thing they want to hear is our success. "Success" is
easily manipulated. We market ourselves to the university as successful
from year-to-year based on many different results. The most important is
CEDA points standings. In other years, we do it based on performance at the
national tournaments, NDT varsity rankings, individual speaking
achievements, or just performance at invitational tournaments. Usually it
is CEDA points standings, meaning that most years our JV/Novice teams fuel
some of our best tournaments with thier success. The bottom line is-we have
always looked successful to the administration, and they have never asked
about the content or style of debate. I'm sure there are lots of programs
whose administrators DO know what debate looks like in college, but I'm also
sure there are lots of programs whose administrators have no real clue.
Now, Linda was strongly connected to the academy, as was the program. Our
success never really dwindled. I'm sure a lot of you remember years ago
when People magazine had (pretty big) story on our program and proclaimed
Linda as the "Vince Lombardi" of CEDA debate. Now, imagine how good a
standing you would have with your administrators if they knew they had an
intercollegiate program that successful.
I am not trying to say that being connected to the academy isn't a big
factor in maintaining a program, because it clearly is. I am suggesting
that the content of debate doesn't serve as a detriment to all programs and
their connection to the school-at-large. The 'stigma' of debate is good.
The first thing people outside of debate assume about debaters is that they
are smart and well-read. I guess my perception of departments is that they
could care less about the value of the activity in relation to its content.
We could change the way we debated and have the chancellor come visit us
every weekend (we tried to get him to attend districts with us), the bottom
line is how valuable the program is to the university, which in our case has
to do with how successful it is. A successful program gives the university
something to promote itself with.
Perhaps the problem is that debate doesn't do a very good job of this, no
matter how successful it is. Maybe this has to do with the modern
university's existence as a money-making business. Debate just doesn't fit
into this model very well.
As for the reasons why our program was cancelled:
Those are few and far between. Our student numbers were WAY UP this year,
with a huge novice and JV turnout, it was the biggest (and most diverse,
with most novices being part of underrepresented groups) squad we have had
since I joined the team.
Our success is up, we finished 4th in CEDA points, our varsity teams enjoyed
success, and our public relations have been great all year as well. After
the fossil fuels NDT we were in the KC Star.
The biggest reasons from the university are the per-student costs of the
program, and the unimportance of the program related to the university
at-large. More important than that, they just don't care anymore. It's not
even that they don't care anymore, but you have to care a lot to funnel a
near six figure budget into a program that at most only works with 20 or so
students. and if we keep servicing that many students we'll have to ask for
a budget increase, plain and simple.
To me, the bottom line is this: The content and educational value of a
program is considered important, but to a university education is provided
by your degree. People care about the pedagogical value of debate, but they
care about maintaining a balanced budget and generating revenue more.
I think it's unlikely we will maintain our program after next year precisely
because I AGREE with part of what Dr Warner is saying-we have to stay tied
to the academy. Linda has resigned, and they are likely going to replace
her with a film studies scholar, not a scholar intended to take on the job
of running a debate program. Once we've lost that connection to the school,
we may keep our program, but at the very least we will take yet another
massive budget cut (our budget was cut by almost 50 percent before this
The thing I disagree with is the idea that the way we debate is DIRECTLY
related to this. I understand arguments about participation and success,
and how the form and content of debate alter those factors in such a way
that disadvantages some programs.
Some things I would like everyone in this discussion to consider are:
What do we do? We had amazing ties to the university for almost 20 years.
In Linda Coller we hands down had the BEST administrator in the country when
it came to public relations and promoting the program. I can't stress that
enough. The thing Linda does better than anyone is getting the word out.
The amount of times we've been in the KC star, university newspapers, on
television, people magazine, Kansas City magazine, and many others is
outrageous. hell, I've been in the newspapers from my hometown, 3 hours
from kansas city, several times because Linda sends out press releases.
Just think of it this way. Linda got People magazine to say she was the
Vince Lombardi of debate....if that's not amazing PR work I don'w know what
More importantly, what can any program do when the bottom line is $$$, and
they just don't fit into the equation. What can we do when everyone
understands the educational value of debate, but it's just not more
important than the budget?
How will us changing the topic to reflect the literature help keep our
I am not trying to start an argument, but a productive talk about what can
be done to keep some programs in the activity. I compared a list of schools
@ CEDA from 1995 to 2005, and there were almost 100 programs that were no
longer there. Dr. Warner I would love to share ideas and beliefs about
debate with you because it worries me that a situation like ours could
Are we doomed? Is there nothing that can be done? Most importantly, will
this situation become the norm as more universities are faced with tight
I am honestly asking you all to extend the courtesy of helping me figure
this out. It pains me to see the program that kept me out of Springfield,
Missouri's KRAFT factory and in college go under.
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