Las Vegas Sun

November 18, 2017

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There’s no debate about UNLV’s success

UNLV Debate ranked in Top 10

Junior Christian Bato presents arguments on the side of the affirmative during a mock debate on Launch slideshow »

NDT's Top 10 Varsity Debate Team Rankings Fall 2011

The National Debate Tournament rankings are released each spring and fall, and includes overall, varsity, community college and regional standings. UNLV is No. 1 in its region, and 17th in overall rankings nationally. Its varsity debate team is ranked 10th in the nation, tied with Kansas State. Rankings are based on a point system according to team results in tournaments.

    1. Northwestern University
    2. University of Michigan
    3. Liberty University
    4. Missouri State University
    5. Oklahoma University
    6. University of Kansas
    7. University of Texas
    8. Wayne State University
    9. Missouri-Kansas City University
    10. Kansas State University
    10. University of Las Vegas Nevada

The pros and cons of debate.

It was just a few years ago — remember the university budget meltdown of 2008-09 and the redux in 2011? — that an up-and-coming debate program at UNLV found itself, along with many other excellent programs, on the chopping block.

There was not a leader to be found at the state level who would stand up for the proposition that a great city requires an even greater university if growth and prosperity are to be part of that city’s future. Not in Nevada, that’s for sure. Budget axes were swung with reckless abandon and some programs that help define a great institution were whacked.

The UNLV debate team was one of the victims. I know, many of you would say, “Who cares about debate? That is one of those things that is not necessary in our connected world where facts are at our fingertips.” (So is fiction.) To that I would say you are wrong; let’s argue the point! Hence, the need for debate.

Fortunately, UNLV President Neal Smatresk and other academic leaders didn’t sit quietly by waiting for the axe to fall. They acted. And they did so in the best interests of the student body and the body politic by finding a way to preserve the fledgling debate program at UNLV. Thank God they did!

The UNLV Foundation Board was introduced last Wednesday to four members of what is now the Sanford Berman debate team at UNLV. As a matter of full disclosure, the debaters are part of the Greenspun College of Urban Affairs, so I write this in large measure with a great deal of pride.

The pride comes from the knowledge that UNLV now not only has a top 10 men’s basketball team, thanks to coach Dave Rice’s incredible recruiting year capped off with the recent news that Anthony Bennett will wear the scarlet and gray next year, but we also have a top 10 debate team!

That’s right. I am sure there aren’t 18,000-plus screaming fanatics cheering every performance by these very bright and talented students, but debate coach Jacob Thompson’s charges have earned the very high ground among all universities with their knowledge and oratory skills in the rarefied air of college debate.

And if that isn’t enough to prove to Las Vegas that UNLV can be top notch on multiple fronts, consider this: The debate team was also No. 1 in the western region this year. That area includes Arizona, New Mexico and California. That’s right. We outranked USC, Stanford, California, Arizona State and the University of Arizona. Not too shabby for a bunch of young students, many of whom grew up and were educated in Las Vegas.

The Foundation Board was treated to an abbreviated version of a policy debate around the proposition, “Campus-based mega-events centers (read that as UNLV’s proposed campus stadium) benefit the local economy and campus life.”

Amber Lilienthal, a junior majoring in communication studies and minoring in English, and Christian Bato, a junior majoring in political science, argued for the affirmative. They were opposed by William Pregman, a freshman majoring in political science, and Michael Eisenstadt, a senior majoring in communication studies.

Each of these students was a star. It was easy to see why their debate team is one of the best in the country. The problem for William and Michael, though, is that they were arguing against the proposed football stadium on the UNLV campus in front of a roomful of UNLV Foundation members who, quite naturally, were favorably disposed to the idea. Since we weren’t accomplished debate judges, there were no points earned for style and technique, although all four excelled in those areas.

If I read the room right, we were convinced of two things. The first is that UNLV should never even think about curtailing or closing a program like the Berman Debate Forum. Ever.

The second thing is that whatever those opposed to the idea of a stadium on campus could come up with, and no matter how substantial the argument was, those who argued in favor of the development won the day. The beauty of debate, as most people know, is that either of the teams could have argued either position equally well.

There are so many positive things happening at UNLV that singling out one or two of them does injustice to the rest. In this case, though, whether it is a top-rated basketball team or a top-rated debate team, the fact is that UNLV is finally coming into its own, not only as an athletic power, but as a growing academic institution.

The trick is going to be making sure this community and this state understand fully the relationship between UNLV and a growing and prosperous Las Vegas. It is that synergy that assures a bright and beneficial future for all Nevadans.

And about that proposition, there should be no debate.

Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.

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