[eDebate] Dear Malcolm,

Ede Warner ewarner
Mon Apr 17 22:55:46 CDT 2006


I wish I had a a magic pill or an answer to your plight, but sadly I do not.  I can't assure you that trying anything in particular can persuade decision-makers to make different decisions than what has been decided.  I can't tell you that if the entire community reduces it's costs by ? before the end of next year, that you will get to keep your program.  I can't tell you that strong evidence showing that the benefits of your program in fact outweigh the costs will assure the survival of UMKC.  I can't even tell you that changing your style would do anything to save your program.
 
However, I can tell you what has worked for me and what hasn't.  And I can offer you my suggestions if I was in your position. Here is a summary of what I've heard discussed in the last few posts, many of which seem to want to focus on a particular area to address how to save debate programs:
 
1)  When no one in the academy knows exactly what you do and measures you solely by external standards like records, competitive success.  
 
Malcolm, your story demonstrates that success alone is insufficient to persuade administrators to keep a program.  If anything, success worked in tandem with a tenure track debate coach building relationships with administrators.  Building relationships means persuasion, i.e., making arguments and advocacy of which the success is a part.  When the advocate with the ethos and connections to build relationships leaves and there is turnover in administrators that don't have that relationship with a debate program, success no longer saves a program, as evidenced by your plight.  I had a top five bid team at Louisville, qualified for the NDT for seven consectative years, had two CEDA Nationals quarterfinalist in the same year, and never received one dime in budget increase over that time period, outside of turning a part-time assistant position, into a part-time faculty assistant coach position.  No increases in travel or scholarship moneys and generally a net reduction overall of the net worth of my program in those first seven years.
 
 
2)  When no one in the academy knows exactly what you do and measures you solely by the quality of the "product" in your program.
 
In the first seven years of our program, we produced engaged students that faculty loved, we had a vibrant Public Debate Series, ran the Louisville high school league, was extremely active in the birth of the UDL movement, and several students and staff worked many summer camps.  Our students graduated with honors and attended Ivy League law schools and top flight graduate programs, and never received one dime in budget increase over that time period, outside of turning a part-time assistant position, into a part-time faculty assistant coach position.  No increases in travel or scholarship moneys and generally a net reduction overall of the net worth of my program in those first seven years.
 
Again as an non-tenured debate coach working to finish a dissertation and get tenured, with a former Debate coach Dean having already used massive amounts of poltical capital to keep the program alive, and on his way out the door, relationship building was again an impedment to the growth of the program.
 

3)  When no one in the academy knows exactly what you do and measures you solely by the connection your program makes with larger university initiatives.
 
In the first seven years of our program, I made few efforts to tie the program to University initiatives outside of those mentioned aboved, and never received one dime in budget increase over that time period, outside of turning a part-time assistant position, into a part-time faculty assistant coach position.  No increases in travel or scholarship moneys and generally a net reduction overall of the net worth of my program in those first seven years.
 
This was a missing aspect of my early time at Louisville because I thought making arguments that debate was good and showcasing our students was enough to justify more resources for the program.  These arguments alone failed.
 
4)  When no one in the academy knows exactly what you do and measures you solely by the personal relationships the Director builds with administrators and faculty.
 
In the first seven years of our program, I never had to worry that the program was eliminated since, like UMKC's time with Linda, I had Tim Hynes (the former Debate coach at Louisville, turned Dean of Arts and Sciences), who had developed the same types of relationships that Linda developed.  However, I never received one dime in budget increase over that time period, outside of turning a part-time assistant position, into a part-time faculty assistant coach position.  No increases in travel or scholarship moneys and generally a net reduction overall of the net worth of my program in those first seven years.
 
Those relationships at that time, maintained a small program, but were insufficient to allow for development and growth.
 
5)  When no one in the academy knows exactly what you do and measures you solely by external standards like overall budget expenditure or cost per student.
 
In the first seven years of our program, this was the argument I heard over and over again to justify no increase in resources and sometimes a decerase.  I was unable to persuade my colleagues and administrators that a $30,000 travel and staff budget, a $40,000 scholarship budget, and my salary (1/2 dedicated to debate) justified additional resources for a 8-14 person debate team.  The argument wasn't persuasive to them.  And again I concluded that I never received one dime in budget increase over that time period, outside of turning a part-time assistant position, into a part-time faculty assistant coach position.  No increases in travel or scholarship moneys and generally a net reduction overall of the net worth of my program in those first seven years.
 
But here is the fallacy and it is demonstrated in each of the posts about this subject, none of these are the SOLE measure of evaluation, and in fact, all are simultaneously at work.  And every time a post reduces the discussion to one of them, they too are ignoring the political complexities of all of this.  
 
After seven years, I did the following:
 
1) Looked at what was important to the University that I was also interested in:  for me that intersection was diversity and specifically, African American participation;
2) We made the priority of the program, we found resources that the University was using to support that inititiative.  We de-emphasized past priorities (competitive success; the product of the student).  We created a set of goals that revolved around diversity, and specifically a state civil rights mandate that required a Southern state to equalize opportunities for Blacks so that state funds won't be cut.
3)  We found methods to facilitate achieving our purpose (we made cultural and stylistic changes to the program to lower the entrance barrier for those students to participate and make it more likely that we could recruit and retain a larger number of Black students).  Instead of doing things the way I had been trained, I listened to our students, looking to address their interests, concerns with the debate training I had learned.  So our use of the debate training was tied to a broader purpose that did not start soley with "do it, cause that's the way I've been trained to do it".
 
Since that time (six years), our resources have more than tripled, almost quadrupled.  We achieved levels of competitive success on a par with what we had in the first seven years and can demonstrate a product that is perceived by our University of at least, as high a quality.  The question is why?
 
It was easier for me to build relationships in the last six years than in the first severn for two reasons:
 
1) It was easier to build relationships when we were able to bring to the relationship something the University was already interested in.  For us, diversity and the recruiting and retaining of African Americans was so important for the campus that two things occurred:  a) the campus saw a value to a program that could attract that population, when most of the campus struggled with this; a) the campus saw a national engagement of an issue by our program that made the University look better with regards to its issues at home.  Similar to the relationship between the Civil Rights movement and the Cold War- When America was charged internationally that why should the world follow democracy, when Blacks were segregated and treated poorly at home, it created more impetus for the US to address those domestic issues.  For the University, our struggles abroad (the debate community), helped fight the domestic fight (gaining more resources at home).
 
2)  It was easier to build relationships when we could not only show off the product, but allow people to see the product in the construction phase.  People that buy a home like seeing the building process, people that buy a car, want to test drive it before it comes off the lot.  I agree with Kelly and others, including yourself--that you can easily separate the content/form of debates from the demonstration of the product, but if you are really, really, really honest with yourself, you would recognize that one's job is a lot harder persuading someone to buy the product, in other venue outside debate.  My colleagues felt that debate was just an "extra curricular activity" that had a high cost to student ratio.  Implicit in that was a belief that extra curicular activities were always subordinate to curricular needs. Our school, as not a school focused on the gifted and talented, wasn't that concerned about this population of students in the first place.  Now this group wants a large chunk of the resources to compete in a "game".  "Create an on-campus league that doesn't cost money and a chess club and be done with it".  So we had to challenge that debate was just a game, and it certainly wasn't for us.  And we had to challenge their preconceived notions about who could get served by debate.
 
Just an fyi, Whites benefited from all of this as well, since the larger resource base allowed for almost as many opportunities for non-Black students as we had in the first seven years, because the resource increases created a net increase of resources.  This helped in the building of our relationships.
 
Our ability to show our product in action created opportunities that everyone who keeps saying content is not important couldn't create.  It was a net benefit, even if it is not necessary to achieve the goal of program stability.  You've got the same hurdles--building relationships with administrators whether you show the product or not--but I think the more guns you bring to the battle, like the ability to show your product, the more chance you have to persuade.  When President Ramsey went to Greece with Elizabeth Jones, a connection had been previously built from debates they shared together, both in person and on video.  When Vice President Mitchell Payne, watched Tonia debate, it created a personal and unique motivation that he now encourages his son to debate.  Now, anyone doing any style can take their administrators to see a debate, but the difference is:  the administrators saw the value on their own and it didn't have to interpreted for them nor did I have to overcome their resistance if they saw it and thought it wasn't educational, which is something we all have to deal with.  And again, you can create those relationships without stylistic change in ways that Kelly and others discuss.  But I'll say this to Kelly, as those who George has built those relationships with change, so will Kelly's ability to navigate the terrain.  The endowment is a huge move, but even with it, one must take care-- to eye the changing political landscape.  I can think of at least one program, Xavier of Ohio, that had a relatively large endowment and still lost their policy program.
 
But this isn't just about style, endowments, or political landscaptes, but about how to save your program, Malcolm.  The previous posts all seem to simplify the issue down to one problem or another:  economics; create the product; competitive success, political support, etc.
 
I'll say this:  you need to build a relationship with those who have the power to fund the program.  You need someone with access to those folks; you need to find out what they want to fund (priorities of institution) and where the University's interests are; and you need a persuasive argument that they can buy into demonstrating that funding your debate program can better the University in those areas.  Whether they can see the content or not, isn't necessarily that important.  I started with a proposal requesting resources to turn our program into a diversity initiative.  I didn't have much evidence other than there were UDL's forming that I thought we could recruit from, making arguments why I thought I could uniquely tap into that population (the only Black phd director).  They made a 2-year committment and I produced what they were looking for.  Then it got easier and easier to acquire more funds and eventually the University was looking for opportunities for me, instead of me coming to them.  I would think Debate-KC is a start, but probably not enough in and of itself without larger vision of what you want it to do for UMKC.  And you must engage in something that debate students don't get much of anymore--audience analysis. If the administrators aren't persuaded, change your approach, don't just say they are wrong for not being persuaded and keep pushing a un-winnable position.  Success requires not only a committment to act, but a committment to listen, think cricially and engage.  A committment to adapt and make concessions, if that is what is needed to win, should always be a part of the strategy in the effort that plan "a" fails to achieve the goal.
 
Good luck and I'm certainly willing to help in any way I can.
 
Sincerely,
 
Ede "Doc" Warner
 
Ede Warner, Jr.
Director of Debate Society/Associate Professor of Communication
University of Louisville
308E Strickler Hall
502-852-3522
e0warn01 at gwise.louisville.edu
http://comm.louisville.edu/~debate

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