Intercollegiate debate at the University of Vermont began in 1899 when Edwin W. Lawrence (Class of 1901) started the University of Vermont debate team, then known as the Green and Gold Debating Club. Throughout the early part of this century, debate was a constant part of life at UVM. After the Second World War, a cohesive national level of debate competition began to take shape, and Vermont was an important force. Robert Huber came to UVM in the late 1940s, and throughout the 1950s and 1960s he led the Vermont debate team to national dominance. Huber built UVM into a powerhouse in the debating community, winning national titles at all levels, including the prestigious National Debate Tournament Championship in 1950 with the team of Richard O'Connell & Thomas Hayes. The University and the state celebrated the team's victory with a parade down Main St. During this time, Edwin W. Lawrence gave generously to the University to establish an endowment for the debate team and a professorial chair to teach forensics and work with the team — which became the Lawrence Debate Union.
After Huber’s retirement, the Lawrence Professorship was taken over by Alfred “Tuna” Snider, who brought the team further national and international attention and success. Under Tuna's direction, the UVM team grew exponentially to be one of the largest teams in the country. During this time, Tuna focused especially on cultivating a culture of novice debate at UVM and in the larger debate community, as he believed that debate was a crucial skill that all citizens should have. Further, Tuna had a vision to spread debate to the world, and he collaborated with many UVM debaters to help teach debate to underserved communities across the globe, all the while maintaining a competitive team that consistently ranked in the top 20 of all schools in debate. In addition to continuing the team's participation in policy debate, Tuna also introduced the UVM team to the British Parliamentary, or Worlds, style of debating, and the team rose to success at regional, national, and international levels of competition. Tuna Snider passed away unexpectedly in December of 2015. That same year, in the spring of 2016, the UVM team of Taylor Brough ('16) and Kalil Lee ('16), coached by Jillian Marty ('04), became policy champions at the Cross-Examination Debate Association National Championship (CEDA).
It should be noted that the success of the debate team at UVM is especially impressive because the vast majority of our opponent schools have extensive scholarship programs for talented high school debaters and a substantially larger budget, while UVM has students with little or no high school experience and very high travel costs. Success is possible through a community of students, staff, faculty, alumni volunteers, and friends.
The LDU is now directed by Helen Morgan Parmett (’00), the Edwin W. Lawrence Endowed Proessor of Forensics and Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre, who is a former alum and coach of the program. The LDU is an endowed, co-curricular program at the University of Vermont located within the Speech and Debate program of the Department of Theatre. Members of the LDU are UVM students enrolled in at least six hours of undergraduate study per semester and who are working toward a Bachelor's degree. Members are expected to attend meetings, participate meaningfully in one or more of the three LDU areas of emphasis (education, service, competition), provide information to the coaching staff about academic schedules and standing, and follow through on voluntary verbal commitments. The LDU has active partnerships with the SPEAK Prison Debate Initiative, Global Gateway Program, Vermont Community Access Media, the UVM Janus Forum, amongst others.
The coaching staff is composed of debate experts who teach debate, explore issues, and coach students to win in competition and in life. They are overworked and underpaid. The primary budget for the LDU is the income generated each year by the Lawrence Fund to Encourage and Develop Debating. It is our generous bequest from Lawrence, and as such, the LDU is responsible for the highest standards of good stewardship. The Student Government Association (SGA) and the Dean’s Office of the College of Arts and Sciences also sponsors the LDU with a small sum of money each year that is used to support coaches’ salaries, travel, and to promote community debates.