Kansas University’s budget woes may soon affect its national championship debate squad’s ability to compete against other top teams.
In a holiday letter to debate alums, Robert Rowland, a KU communication studies professor and former national champion debater, said the squad could face cuts of up to $10,000 in upcoming reductions. He asked alumni to help fill the gap.
“For a squad that not only didn’t get any increase last year, but that was woefully underfunded compared to similar programs to begin with, these potential cuts can only be labeled as catastrophic,” Rowland wrote.
Rowland said that KU has had prolonged success in debate over many years. Where other areas of the university attempt to reach the top 25 of public schools, he said KU’s debate program continually places in the top five of all schools.
“It’s probably the one place over the last half-century where we’ve gone more than even-up with Harvard,” he said.
Scott Harris, KU’s debate coach, said the team spends nearly all its $100,000 budget on travel, which allows its debaters to compete against top-level talent.
In early January, for example, Harris said he’ll be sending teams to California and Texas, eating up almost $10,000. The school typically travels to 18 or 19 tournaments per year, he said.
He said the school’s funding is relatively average for most squads, but is still below most of the top contenders in the nation.
Harris said he appreciates the support the school has given in the past. KU has commemorated Nate Johnson’s and Brett Bricker’s March national championship victory over Wake Forest in the wee hours of the morning with billboards, television ads and prominent displays on the school’s Web page.
Though KU has a young squad this year, Harris said, it is continuing on previous success, with duos ranked 11th and 13th among all debaters, and an overall No. 5 national ranking for the entire team.
The alumni have been “awesome” in their support, too, Harris said. A “Donate to Debate” link from the program’s home page points to six different KU Endowment funds that support various areas of the debate program.
It’s difficult to tell exactly the size of other schools’ budgets, he said, as many don’t reveal specifics, but when teams travel with larger contingents, it’s pretty easy to see they have more cash available than KU, he said.
He said while budget troubles are not something that worry him every day, it’s been a concern lately.
“We’ve had historically strong support,” Harris said. “Whenever there are changes in leadership and the economy’s in trouble, you worry about these things.”
Beth Innocenti, chairwoman of the communication studies department, said in an e-mail that while the potential size of the cuts are still unknown, the debate program, along with the school’s graduate program, would likely have to take a hit.
“As is the case with our graduate program, which serves undergraduates throughout the university, budget cuts for debate will hurt KU,” she said.