The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

The Student News Site of Macalester College

The Mac Weekly

Policy debate brought back

By Matea Wasend

Eight months after being told that their coach and event were being cut from Macalester debate, Mac’s policy debaters are getting the green light to rejoin the team. The administration has agreed to fund a coach on a tournament-by-tournament basis and Director of Forensics Dick Lesicko will re-instate policy debate as an offering of the school’s debate program.

“Policy debate is coming back,” Lesicko said.

The decision came as efforts to establish a student club floundered and participation in the debate team’s new events, like Lincoln Douglas (LD), remained unimpressive.

It also came in somewhat clouded form-with Lesicko and Vice President for Student Affairs Laurie Hamre saying that this route had been an option all along, and student debaters maintaining that the prospect of Macalester continuing to fund debate had never been put on the table.

“I’m not surprised people remember it differently,” Hamre said of the discussions surrounding the staffing cut last year. “There were a lot of emotions involved.”

“If the school had come to me and said, ‘We will pay all your travel expenses and a stipend for a coach,’ my response would probably not have been ‘Nope, I don’t need you and all your money,'” Michael Freedman ’11, who has fronted the ongoing effort to keep Macalester policy debate alive, wrote in an email.

Last semester’s decision to eliminate policy debate was money-oriented, with Hamre stating that the small number of debaters (six students last year) could not justify funding a three-quarter-time coaching position. Policy debate, Lesicko said, costs about three times as much as most other forensics events.

The debate team picked up a number of new events in the hopes of attracting more numbers at a lower cost. A Macalester press release about the changes described Lesicko as “confident that this shift [to LD and Parliamentary debate] will increase student participation.”

But Freedman, other Mac debaters and the larger debate community lamented the loss of research-based, evidence-intensive policy debate from Macalester and questioned whether the shift would really lead to an increase in numbers.

Months later, their question has been answered. Lesicko said that while some of the new events have seen decent participation, LD-the event intended to most closely replace policy-has had not a single participant all year.

Lesicko is the front man on the reintroduction of policy debate. He’s already putting together a tournament schedule and has plans to get students to multiple competitions in January to get back in debating shape in time for the district tournament.

“It’s a pretty good solution,” Lesicko said. “There’s nothing worse than having a bunch of people who want to go to tournaments and have no way to get there.”

“We have a difficult amount of work to do to catch up with teams who have been doing this since August,” said Jon Chen ’11. “But we’ll take it.”

The team will continue to operate on limited funding, and coaching will be much more restricted than last year with a part-time coach coming on simply to accompany students to tournaments and advise them through their competitions. Lesicko characterized the position as “essentially volunteer.”

Freedman and Chen speculated that Mike Baxter-Kauf, the coach whose position was cut last year, might fill that role whenever his new coaching job allows.

Baxter-Kauf said he hasn’t been offered any sort of position by the administration, but after chatting with Freedman has plans in the works to accompany the debaters to a tournament in Iowa in December.

But he said that having a tournament-by-tournament coach is far from an ideal situation.

“I have a separate job which means I will not be available to do much coaching during the week,” Baxter-Kauf wrote in an email. “That’s really where a tremendous amount of the learning and argument development takes place, so I would assume that will suffer significantly.”

Still, it’s a far step from where the policy debaters were even a few weeks ago-stuck in a logjam of fundraising policies, yet to attend a single tournament. Lesicko said the debaters missed a number of nearby tournaments as they struggled to get their club team up and running.

Chen hopes the team might still be able to salvage the season and qualify for the National Debate Tournament, a national championship for collegiate policy debate that takes place in the spring.

“We will have to capitalize on January,” Chen said. “Then we’ll see how we do at districts.”

Lesicko expressed similar optimism about the season ahead, and hopes that reuniting the policy debaters with the school team will rein in those students who had been left in limbo with the cancellation of their event.

Some students, like Freedman and Chen, will certainly hop right back into competition.

Others, like Laura Johnson ’14, aren’t so sure.

Chen described Johnson as “one of the top high school debaters in Minnesota.” Johnson said she and her high school debate partner were “highly competitive on the national circuit,” finishing sixth in the country at one major end-of-year tournament and second individually at another.

She applied to Mac, she said, in large part so that she could debate competitively in college-only to be informed in the spring that the policy debate program had been cut.

“I still ended up coming to Mac absent debate cause I feel like it was a good fit for me, but I know many of my friends chose to go to other schools with debate programs once Mac’s was cut,” Johnson wrote in an email.

Johnson is hesitant to start debating even though policy has been reinstated, she said, because she’s already filled her life with other activities-including a job coaching debate-and does not relish the thought of catching up on the extensive research and preparation necessary to be competitive in the policy circuit.

“I ended my high school career on a very good note, and am hesitant to leave a job and take on the incredible time commitment for something that may not get off the ground,” Johnson wrote. “Part of the reason I am attracted to debate is the competition, and I don’t know whether I want to uproot my current life if I won’t be able to achieve the same level of competition that I did in high school.”

For Chen, though, who “cried for a day” when he found out that policy debate had been cut from Macalester’s program, the renewed chance to finish out his college career doing what he loves best is worth the challenges he’ll face.

“The adrenaline rush that I get when I debate is absolutely phenomenal,” Chen said. “It’s a stressful activity, but the stress was worth it when I beat good teams, when I pulled an upset in a bracket. There is nothing more fun.

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