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MSU Denver’s revitalized debate program is thriving

The program prepares students for careers, postgraduate education and civic participation while asking them to reimagine the status quo.

By Lindsey Coulter

January 14, 2020

MSU Denver Debate Team students during competition.After a nearly 15-year hiatus, Metropolitan State University of Denver once again has a debate team. The newly revived intramural/intercollegiate program offers students the opportunity to organize events and debate important issues.

Funded jointly by the Provost’s Office and the President’s Innovation Fund, MSU Denver’s debate program prepares Roadrunners for careers and postgraduate education and to be effective and engaged citizens. Beyond that, it could even enhance their future economic and social mobility.

“Debate helps students develop skills that employers value: communication, collaboration, leadership and advocacy,” said Dan Lair, Ph.D., chair and associate professor, Communication Studies. “Longitudinal studies also show college debaters significantly outperform their nondebate peers over their careers in terms of salaries, promotions and voluntary job changes.”

“Because debaters are asked to utilize numerous formats and encounter a variety of forums and audiences, their skills are honed for the changing conditions of the 21st-century marketplace where jobs and job descriptions are in constant flux,” added Lecturer John Rief, who leads the program.

Lair and Rief also note that debate builds on what students learn in the classroom, asking them to draw connections among courses, current events and timeless questions about the human condition.

“At its core, debate is about reimagining how things might be different and making arguments about what we need to do to make the world a better place,” Lair said. “It’s a perfect fit with the mission of MSU Denver.”

As debate offers students a robust context for student civic engagement, Rief hopes to plan public events that showcase students’ research and debate skills while also creating a platform to discuss timely social issues.

“And we want to be known as the place in Denver to convene important conversations,” Lair added. “We’d love to host debates between gubernatorial candidates, for instance.”

While the program has been back up and running only since the beginning of the semester, students are already seeing success. Five Roadrunners, though largely novice debaters, delivered strong performances in tournaments at the U.S. Air Force Academy and the University of Denver, and the program will host an intramural tournament and an exhibition debate with Ireland’s national-championship team April 15.

“It’s fitting that we’ll host the Irish Tour to reintroduce debate at MSU Denver,” Lair said. “This year marks the 40th anniversary of a U.S. tour being the prize for winning the Irish national championship, and that prize was first organized by MSU Denver Professor Emeritus Gary Holbrook. So this anniversary celebration is a homecoming of sorts.”

The short-term goal is to have at least one MSU Denver team ready for the U.S. Universities National Debate Championship in April; however, the long-term goal is to build a robust, competitive traveling intercollegiate team as well as a competitive intramural debate competition with scholarship prizes. As more than 50 students have already expressed interest in the program, the program is well on its way.

Please contact Rief to learn more about the program or to get involved.

Topics: Academics, Affiliate faculty, Excellence, Student Success

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