Policy debate lives on at Mac

By Matea Wasend

Macalester was the talk of the debate community last semester when the administration made public their decision to remove a coaching position, reshuffle responsibilities and effectively eliminate policy debate. Students and alumni cried foul, some lamenting what they saw as the destruction of a 100-year debating tradition at the college. Even local online news site MinnPost picked up the story, calling policy debate “the crown jewel” of Macalester’s debate program and describing the efforts of many students, alumni and others in the debate community to persuade the administration to reconsider.

The administration went through with the changes. It cut the job of Mike Baxter-Kauf, a part-time coach who had overseen the debate team and handed his responsibilities to Director of Forensics Dick Lesicko.

In doing so, it booted policy debate out the door. Lesicko’s dual responsibility for both mock trial and debate meant that policy, which requires a lot of travel, would be simply unfeasible.

In its place, the team will compete in four other events including a new competition called Ethics Bowl.

But for the six students who were on the team last year, it’s policy debate or nothing at all. None of the veterans returned to the team this semester.

Instead, they are in the process of forming a policy debate club sanctioned by MCSG. Ideally they’ll compete in the same tournaments as before-possibly even with the guidance of Baxter-Kauf, their former coach.

“Lots of college teams function like this,” said Michael Freedman ’11, who is spearheading the efforts to get a club team off the ground.

MCSG has proved sympathetic to Freedman and his fellow policy debaters, expediting their chartering process and helping them jump through the paperwork hoops.

Even so, a bigger obstacle has yet to come: fundraising.

As they are looking to compete in their first major tournament on Oct. 2, the club will probably start by asking MCSG for money to finance their initial travels.

Once they start to build a track record, Freedman expects they’ll find financial backers among the Macalester alumni, some of them former policy debaters, who opposed the decision to scrap policy debate last semester.

Lesicko expressed happiness at the way the controversy seems to be working out.

“I’m really glad that they’re getting the opportunity to continue policy,” Lesicko said. “If there was one bad thing about these changes it was that they might not get a chance to qualify for the NDT [National Debate Tournament].”

Prospects for Lesicko’s team are looking good as well, despite speculation from some last semester that scrapping policy might lower participation in debate. An opening forensics meeting saw around 50 interested students.

Lesicko said it’s too soon to tell exactly how many people will be on the team, or whether the new types of debate will affect numbers.

The administration defended their decision to eliminate policy last semester by saying that competing in different, more accessible types of debate might raise participation.

Many replied that policy is simply the best type of debate there is.

“Policy debate is the most intellectually and academically rewarding extra-scholastic activity there is,” Baxter-Kauf said in the MinnPost article, entitled “Is this the end for Macalester’s near-century-old policy-debate program?”

Lesicko said that although he understands some debaters’ emotional attachment to policy, the notion that one type of debate is superior to another is unreasonable.

“If there’s two teams arguing a proposition that they have researched, it’s debate,” Lesicko said.