Debate Team practices public speaking, encourages new friendships

Find yourself constantly arguing, standing up for yourself when others try to prove you wrong?

No, this is not an advertisement for anger management. It’s an offer to step up to the challenge and debate!

The University of Miami’s debate team is one of the university’s low-profile success stories that gives students the opportunity to compete in evidence-based policy team debates across the country.

“Competitive debate is a fun, empowering and uniquely rewarding activity which will complement your coursework and enable your academic and professional development,” said David Steinberg, director of debate and a professor at the School of Communication.

“Debate builds leaders,” he said, noting that alumni have gone on to careers as attorneys, public relations executives and politicians, to name a few.

Steinberg, along with graduate assistant Cale Halley and alumnus Bill Gutek, coach the team and prepare them for tournaments.

“We have a long and storied history, and great potential,” Steinberg said.

The team has been a part of the university since it opened its doors and has participated in the National Debate Tournament 20 times, winning two national titles. Achievements also include the Cross Examination Debate Association’s Founder’s Award, recognizing consistent excellence and success over the past 25 years and members participating in the All-American Debate Team 19 out of the past 20 years.

Prior experience is not required and the team is open to all undergraduate students; there are no try-outs.  Students also can earn course credit by taking a communication class on debate theory and practice.  The debate season runs from September to March, though research and preparation are done year-round.

“In an activity that is highly adversarial, we stick together and make sure no one is left behind,” said junior Robert Hupf, a three-year veteran.

Hupf said he had no experience in debating before joining the team. He approached it as an extracurricular activity that would prepare him for a career as a lawyer. He admitted to leaving his first meeting thinking he “was crazy to want to do this, but times have fortunately changed.”

Freshman Gerald Cowen, has been debating since eighth grade.

“I believe that if nothing else, my paradigms have changed for the better, allowing me to evaluate situations in a manner more efficiently, effectively and evenhandedly than ever before,” he said.

Recently, teammates Hupf and Cowen won second place for junior varsity debate in a tournament at the University of Central Florida. Freshmen Spencer George and Bijal Mehta won the novice division championship. Awards also went to juniors Alicia Ortiz and Yolanda Richard, senior Chrissoula Mihelakis, and freshmen Adaeze Ajoku and Megan Motley.

Despite the team’s success, one concern Steinberg has is ensuring a steady stream of financial support in these tight economic times. Currently, the School of Communication helps cover travel and supplies for the team of 23 students. Steinberg is exploring having the debate team become an official student organization under COSO, which would make it eligible for SAFAC funding. But even SAFAC is having serious money woes now.

Still, the debate team remains a free experience to any undergrad at UM who wants to develop and improve public speaking skills, critical and creative thinking, research – and to gain some new friends.

“The relationships you form with other debaters from around the country keeps me coming back,” Cowen said.

Alexandra Valenzuela may be contacted at


UM Debate meets at 3:15 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays in room 2040 of the Communication International Building.
For more information, see professor David Steinbergin Wolfson 3015, call 305-284-5553 or email