[eDebate] Reconnecting debate to the academy-the case of UMKC

Malcolm Gordon malgorthewarrior
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 
budget intact?

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.

malcolm gordon

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