University of Vermont

University of Vermont Debating Program Rated in World Top 10

Lawrence Debate Union

UVM's Lawrence Debate Union has been ranked seventh out of all college and university debating programs in the world by the International Debate Education Association, a leading non-profit dedidated to developing, organizing and promoting debate and debate-related activities in communities throughout the world. The evaluation was administered by Colm Flynn, founder and editor of the World Debating Website and an emertis member of the World Debating Council.

The ranking places the following schools in the top ten: Sydney Union, Australia; Monash, Australia; Yale; Cornell; Oxford Union, England; Cambridge, England; the University of Vermont; Colgate; London School of Economics; and McGill.

The Lawrence Debate Union has been engaged in intercollegiate debating since 1899, but only since 2007 has the program focused on international debating. Since that time, the program has risen through the rankings, from 280, to 135, to 39 and now to seven in the rankings.

Alfred Snider is the Edwin Lawrence Professor of Forensics at the University of Vermont and has directed the program for the past thirty years. 

“Our students have as much if not more to say than any students in the world, and they can say it just as well. We know argument, issues and the techniques of persuasion. The secret has been that the nature of our program, being endowed by a wealthy alumnus who graduated in 1901, provides for stability and a strong training system to make students the best they can be. Of course, the hard work and dedication of the students is all important."

One added feature has been the addition of highly skilled trainers from Europe to work with UVM students. Currently Mary Nugent, formerly director of debating at Cambridge in the UK, is a coach at Vermont. “Students are hard working and ready to learn, and they learn from the competitions they attend through defeat and victory. Our systematic style of training has allowed them to come a long way in a short time,” she said.

UVM has won the Northeast title five times in a row, has been in the semifinals at the U.S. championships twice recently, and has made the late rounds at the world championships. “It isn’t that we have one or two teams that do so well,” explained Snider. “It is the fact that our third, fourth and fifth teams also do well. If we have three teams at the world championships versus 400 other teams, and all three are in the top fifty, it is very impressive.”

The remainder of the top thirty schools provides some idea of the lofty company Vermont is keeping. Those schools include Trinity College Dublin (ranked 13), Harvard (22) and Stanford (28). Read the full rankings online.

The rankings draw from the results of 33 high-profile tournaments around the world to show the comparative strength of debating societies against each other. The totals are calculated by adding the results of all the teams a college or university society fielded in the tournaments, including the largest event of the year, the World Universities Debating Championships.