MCSG criticizes admin for cutting debate coach

By Matt Day

The Macalester policy debate team, in limbo since college administrators announced funding for its coach would be cut from next year’s budget, received a show of support from student government this week.Macalester College Student Government unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday condemning the way the administration went about cutting the program. The resolution urged administrators to work with the team to find a way to continue the program next year.

“The administration should be working with us,” debate team member Michael Freedman ’11 said after the resolution passed. “They should work with us in a way that doesn’t involve immediately ending policy debate. That should be the last step we do.”

Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre made the call to cut the funding for the policy coach’s position in March, citing low student participation. The team currently has six members.

Freedman told MCSG representatives that though participation had waned in recent years, he had commitments from 12 additional current and likely Macalester students to participate next year. Hamre has said that students who choose Macalester intending to join the team frequently reconsider once they arrive on campus.

Hamre emphasized that her decision was designed to place resources where they could benefit the greatest number of students. Her plan would eliminate the position of Mike Baxter-Kauf ’02, assistant director of forensics, saving the college the cost of his three-quarters time salary and benefits. The funding would be allocated elsewhere within the debate program, Hamre said.

“I will not reinstate a staff position to work with so few students,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Not when the College has so many staffing needs. I do believe it will be difficult to offer policy without a second staff person in that area.”

The MCSG resolution was critical of the decision to eliminate the program without advance warning, saying the debate team was not given a chance to solve problems the adminstration had with the team nor presented with a set of goals for its continued operation.

“Put us on notice,” Freedman said. “Tell us we need more participation. We should have had ample time to discuss this.”

Director of Forensics Richard Lesicko ’75, who currently spends a majority of his time coaching the Mock Trial team, would take over Baxter-Kauf’s coaching responsibilities if his position was eliminated. The program will switch to two new types of debate: Lincoln-Douglas and Parliamentary.

Hamre said the new styles are more accessible, and should draw greater participation.

Freedman says the extra responsibilities would overburden Lesicko.

“I have never, nor have people involved in debate statewide, ever heard of one person coaching three [debate] activities,” Freedman said.

Members of the debate team met with Hamre Thursday to discuss alternatives to eliminating the program.

“Of course I will consider their request,” Hamre said.