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

Staff Editorial – Where's the Debate debate?


Macalester’s policy debate program was started in 1911. On Feb. 28, 2010, policy debate coach Mike Baxter-Kauf had to inform his team that his position had been eliminated from the budget, and that Macalester’s policy debate program would be finished after the end of its current season. It is no secret that Macalester, like all institutions of higher education, has to be careful with its finances. Sometimes, cuts have to be made. And at the point where a staff member is being paid $27,000 to coach an activity with four participants, it would be legitimate to have a discussion about the necessity and viability of that program.

But that’s just the problem: there was no discussion. No dialogue, no engagement with the debate team, no warning. Baxter-Kauf had only been informed five days prior. With a decree and a few subsequent justifications, a 99-year-old program was eliminated. That the administration went about canceling an long-established student activity in such a manner is troubling.

The debate team has been wronged by the administration. The students and coaches should have been informed well in advance of any concerns the administration had about the program, and they should have been allowed an opportunity to find solutions to those issues. Given that they were deprived of those opportunities, the debate team is entirely justified in its fight to keep the assistant debate coach position and preserve the school’s nearly-century-old policy debate tradition.

Since the debate team was informed that its coach was being eliminated, a number of things have happened. Both the national debate community and the local high school community, which benefits from Macalester’s policy debate program, have come out against the administration’s decision to cancel the policy debate program. As of this writing, the “Save Macalester Policy Debate” Facebook group had 1,168 members from Macalester, the Twin Cities, the national debate community and prospective freshmen for whom the existence of policy debate is important, if not crucial, in their decision about whether or not to attend Macalester.

Few activities engender the kind of close-knit, active and long-lasting communities that debate and forensics do. And few communities are more equipped to find creative solutions to problems than the debate community. Several of Macalester’s trustees, in fact, either debated at Macalester or are involved in the local Twin Cities debate community. That the administration never gave this potent force a crack at finding an alternative to canceling the policy debate program is almost tragic.

Meanwhile, the administration has defended its decision in a number of ways, arguing at various points that the coaching position was too expensive for a small team, that students would benefit just as much from the new Lincoln-Douglas or Parliamentary styles of debate as they would from policy debate, that the move away from policy debate has historical precedent because Macalester did CEDA debate for a few years, and that reducing the number of debate coaches from two to one would ultimately end up growing the debate team because the new debate style would attract more students.

The point here is not to refute each of the administration’s arguments but to criticize the administration’s failure to provide any space for dialogue about alternative measures. There should have been some sort of cooperation with the debate team.

Or are they worried about debating the debate team?

The opinions expressed above are those of The Mac Weekly, as determined by the staff. The perspectives are not representative of Macalester College.

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