Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

The Great Debate

On Wednesday afternoons, senior Mara Cantrell-Paulson transforms from Augustana student to debate union president.
Cantrell-Paulson’s role is just one of many transitions for the debate union after being demoted to a student-led club, rather than a co-curricular program on Jan. 24.
“Mara’s been terrific,” said adviser Chris Davis. “I think she’ll be a great leader and president this year in leading the team.”
Along with five new novice debaters, the club has a staff supporter in TLA Residence Hall Director Davis, who assists the club with transportation expenses and travel logistics.
Davis, formerly the men’s lacrosse assistant coach, stepped in to get involved with the team. Davis found a key characteristic between both his athletic, and now academic, experience with students.
“Every student that comes here, they’re competitive in one way or another,” said Davis. “Whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s on the athletic field. In this case, when it comes to debate, I think it’s great that they have that passion, that drive, and it will only help them someday.”
With the new changes, come new challenges. The team is currently funded solely by alumni donations, and is not funded by the college or the Student Government Association. The team is hoping to contact more Augustana debate union alumni for assistance in keeping the club afloat.
Debate at Augustana has a long history. Three days after Augustana was founded in 1860, the debate union was formed, according to the Augustana historical website. Alumni include Charles Lindberg, for whom the debate scholarship, and the football stadium, are named after.
Lindberg led the Augustana debate team to the final round at the national finals at the National Debate Tournament in 1950. Lindberg went on to be a successful lawyer and was a college trustee for 29 years.
Since its founding Augustana College has served as an example for the entire debate community, qualifying 51 times for the NDT and claiming the top prize in 1957.
Over the years, the program’s consistency has fluctuated. This year will provide insight into whether or not the team can sustain a student-run model.
While the funding for the union has dwindled, their work ethic remains strong. While most teams started topic research in the summer, the debate union has just started due to the many challenges and changes that have occurred.
“You do as much research on a debate topic in a year as most students will do on a master’s thesis,” said Cantrell-Paulson.
Davis, who had previously never been to a debate practice, agrees.
“Seeing the work ethic they put in and all the research and time it takes, it’s something that’s new to me, but it helps you see there’s a lot of hard work they’re putting in,” said Davis.
While the team is restricted to the Midwest area tournaments due to lack of funding, they remain hopeful. Help from recently hired coach Roger Copenhaver of the Northwestern Debate Institute will provide some much needed support. Copenhaver, who is still employed at Northwestern, will be available to the team mostly through Skype.
“It’s going to be a tough year, no matter what the transition is, even with just a new coach, said Cantrell-Paulson, “but I’m looking forward to seeing what we as students can do.”

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The Great Debate