University of Vermont

University Communications

Professor Tuna Snider, Debate Mentor to Generations, Passes Away

Alfred 'Tuna' Snider
(Photo: Sally McCay)

Alfred C. “Tuna” Snider, the University of Vermont’s beloved debate team director and an international legend in the arena of academic argument, died Friday, Dec. 11.

Snider, who was UVM’s Edwin W. Lawrence Professor of Forensics, led the university’s Lawrence Debate Union for more than three decades and took the student team to international acclaim. UVM currently ranks 15th in the world among academic teams in the International Debate Education Association and reached the No. 7 spot in 2011, joining the top 10 alongside the distinguished debaters at Yale and Cornell universities, Oxford and Cambridge universities in England and the London School of Economics.

Snider traveled to 45 countries on nearly every continent to advance the art of debate – in developing nations, under communist regimes and in war-torn territories – including Serbia, Iraq, Pallestine, Botswana, Afghanistan and Chile. Since 1984, he served as director of the World Debate Institute.

“The debate world just lost a legend,” the national debate team of Morocco wrote today on Twitter.

“In his deeds and words, Tuna reminded us of what actually makes America great,” the Worlds Schools Debating Championships, which organizes international competitions, posted online in a memorial to Snider. “It is not military power or immense wealth. It is values and ideals – of tolerance, free expression, listening to others, engaging in discussion and debate, respecting different views. Tuna spread these generously and enthusiastically wherever he went.”

Born in California, Snider argued his way through high school and as an undergraduate at Brown University in Providence, R.I., where he was a top-ranked debater with a major in Asian Civilization. He earned his master’s degree in rhetoric and public address from Emerson College in Boston and his doctorate in communication studies, personal and social influence from the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kans.

“The kind of skills you develop through debate are twenty-first-century success skills,” Snider said in a Vermont Quarterly story in 2012. “Wherever you go, whatever you do, you’re going to have to take information and shape it into messages that influence people. You have to be able to critically analyze ideas, arguments, and positions.”

UVM President Thomas Sullivan expressed the depth of Snider’s loss and the worldwide recognition he brought to the UVM community.

“Alfred ‘Tuna’ Snider was a compelling teacher and beloved coach who inspired generations of debaters at UVM to do great things not only on the college debate circuit but in their lives after graduation,” Sullivan said. “Through his frequent travels as a debate coach, his influence extended far beyond the campus borders to young people around the world. His family, the UVM community, and the world of debate at large have suffered a great loss. Tuna will be dearly missed.”

Snider was prolific in disseminating the value of reasoned discourse. He penned at least 20 books, including several textbooks.

"Each argument is a small particle of an edifice that might lead to lasting and important changes,” Snider wrote in his 2014 text, Sparking the Debate: How to Create a Debate Program. “My greatest hope is that my work can be a small part of this greater effort. I see debate growing and prospering around the world. The time seems right to strike some sparks wherever we can in the hope that it will create additional light. Do your best and trust yourself."

A consummate wordsmith in every format, Snider also loved music and served as the faculty advisor for the campus radio station, WRUV-90.1 FM. In addition to his many debate and persuasion courses at UVM, he taught the popular “The Rhetoric of Reggae Music,” which outlines the history of the genre and its influence on social and political dialogue. Snider also co-founded the Vermont Reggae Festival and hosted a “Reggae Lunch” every Wednesday for 15 years on WRUV.

WRUV will hold a tribute for Snider Wednesday, Dec. 16, from 8 to 10 p.m. All are invited to come by the station’s studio on the first floor of the Davis Center to gather and say a few words about Snider on air, if they wish. The station’s DJ’s will play music from Snider’s personal music collection, as well as reggae songs that were his favorites. The station will also tap its archives and broadcast sections of Snider’s show from past years to give listeners a sense of his on-air personality. WRUV’s frequency is 90.1 FM. The event will be live-streamed on WRUV.org.

“He had a lot of influence on a lot of students,” said Gregory Ramos, chair of UVM’s Department of Theatre, including the speech program where Snider taught. “You could not disregard his impact and his passion.”

Snider’s family has requested that any donations made in his honor go to the Lawrence Debate Union. Donations may be made online or by phone: (888) 458-8691. A memorial will be Friday, April 29 at 4 p.m. in Ira Allen Chapel. A reception will immediately follow. Register here.

Read more about Snider's work and legacy in this story from Vermont Quarterly, "The Good Fight."