North Texas Daily

UNT debate team encourages campus conversation despite budget cuts

UNT debate team encourages campus conversation despite budget cuts

UNT debate team encourages campus conversation despite budget cuts
November 15
11:17 2018

Dating as far back as 1901, UNT’s debate team is one of the oldest organizations on campus. Competing around the country on the national level, the team has brought home numerous awards and produced many success stories.

“We’re having a banner year,” director of debate Brian Lain said. “For the third straight year, we won a Texas State Debate title, we had a student that won the International Public Debate Association Division and we have had a number of different successes at tournaments. The team overall is having a really great beginning of the season.”

When Lain began his career at UNT in 2002, there were less than five members on the debate team. Since then, the team has grown considerably. Last year, UNT Debate was taking over 30 students to competitions around the country.

“[There are] about 22 [members] on the team now, [but] we’ve had to reduce some of our tournament travel because of budget pressures,” Lain said. “The debate team succeeds based on its competition at tournaments and all of our rankings are based on the number of points we accumulate during different tournament competitions. So if we can’t travel to tournaments, we can’t generate anything in the rankings.”

On top of not being able to travel as much, not as many students get to go when the team does get the chance to compete due to the tight budget. Lain said he has gone as far as disconnecting his office phone to save the team some money. According to documents obtained by the Daily from the Student Service Fee Committee, the organization saw a decrease of $9,010.08 from their budget, going from $91,161.50 in 2017 to $82,151.42 2018.

“[Student service fees] would like us to be self-sufficient in the future,” Lain said.

If the debate team were to become self-sufficient, Lain feels the team would be radically different.

“I think it would be more like a club,” Lain said. “It would be hard to maintain the national ranking that we have been able to accomplish and it would be very hard for us to recruit students. It would change its nature pretty radically and I don’t think there would be the same offerings for students.”

Although it is preferred for the team to keep receiving student service fees, Lain is planning ahead to keep the club afloat.

“We’re looking for a model to be self-sufficient, we just haven’t had much luck at finding one yet,” Lain said. “Most of our competitors in the state of Texas receive student service fees.”

During Lain’s 16 years at UNT, he has seen students move on to different careers. Some have gone on to pursue careers in law, while some have become educators. One of his students from 2004 went on to eventually work in the White House under former president George W. Bush.

Communications studies junior Alex Dickson learned about UNT’s debate team after competing against them before transferring to the university. She plans to become a debate coach after graduating.

“Debate allows me to express my form of communication and advocate for a variety of issues,” Dickson said. “It allows me to fix miscommunications in the way my speech affects people, thus teaching me to modify my speech to be more effective.”

Dickson has won multiple awards over the course of the semester, including Top Speaker in all debate events at the Bayou City Swing tournament. Dickson believes that debate helps her gain and understand new perspectives.

“[When I coach], I will be able to teach people how to engage in critical thinking to increase discourse and understanding,” Dickson said.

UNT debate president and theatre junior Avery Davis has been a part of the debate team since her freshman year. Davis decided to attend UNT because her high school debate coach is an alumnus. During her years with the team, she said she has witnessed changes firsthand.

“The biggest change I’ve seen was the transition into more cost-effective styles of debate,” Davis said. “UNT used to be a successful policy debate team, but in my time here at UNT [due to] inclusivity, budget and vision, we have transitioned into a [National Parliamentary Debate Association]-focused team. In my opinion, that’s the biggest success I’ve seen. We worked with what we could and regularly take the state title or runner-up for [the National Parliamentary Debate Association] here in Texas.”

Davis said the National Parliamentary Debate Association tournament fees are generally cheaper, so switching styles was a solution to stay within budget while also acquiring enough points needed to qualify for national competitions. Though the team has proved to be successful despite transitioning to this new style of debate, Davis has seen how a tighter budget has affected the team.

“I think it’s made it harder to beat the learning curve that better and more expensive tournaments provide,” Davis said. “State tournaments on the national circuit are more competitive than regional Texas tournaments.”

In order for the younger class to gain experience, Davis has stepped back to let them participate in competitions. Davis has not competed for the entire semester.

“Debaters who come in without prior experience don’t get the opportunity to be nationally competitive because only so many people can go to out of state tournaments,” Davis said. “When we send people to [tournaments], we obviously pick those who have more experience and will be more successful. In debate, you need to fail at it to learn. With a tight budget, we don’t have much room to fail.”

The team has been told to fundraise to help make ends meet, but Davis finds it discouraging.

“We aren’t necessarily what the student body gets excited for,” Davis said. “You’ve never seen students excited about the next tournament like they [are] for football games. It makes sense that school spirit is centered around sports. It’s simply that we will never be able to rally up the student body like other organizations do. Only a small percentage of them would care about our budget cuts because they either were a debater or they’re in another student organization facing the same hurdles.”

While the team receives money from alumni, Davis feels they already do so much to provide scholarships that they cannot maintain the budget as well.

“Between the alumni and our efforts to fundraise, we struggle to maintain a competitive edge with other universities,” Davis said. “A big fear I have is that eventually, because a collegiate debate team can’t be self-sustaining, our organization that has been around since 1901 will die.”

Featured Image: Josiah Atkinson, a member of the UNT debate team, competes in an impromptu speaking final during the fall TIFA State Tournament. UNT held the tournament and other members of the debate team helped judge. Jacob Ostermann

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Rebecca Najera

Rebecca Najera

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