By Fatima Najm
They’ll do anything for an opportunity to try out heir rhetorical skills. Even sleep at the feet of Harvard University students to save on accommodation costs.
Because of their sparse budget, it’s the only way the fresh minted Ryerson Debate Society can get themselves to the Harvard debate championship.
In 1998 Ryerson’s debate society had a plump budget at its disposal. But that was before Leatrice Spevak, RyeSAC campus groups co-ordinator, was brought on board to restructure Oakham house societies.
Spevak says debate is an expensive pursuit, with hefty tournament fees barring the fledgling student group from making inroads into the debate circuit.
“But it’s like any other hobby, with more benefit going to the individual than to Ryerson, so if you have an interest you have to be able to pay for it,” said Spevak.
Briar Stewart, president of the society, is certain a debate team will raise Ryerson’s profile.
“The university has tried so hard to ditch our polytechnic roots, debate is the way to do it,” she said. “We have a unique opportunity to enforce a more academic reputation.”
Stewart is getting geared up to lead her band of debaters to Harvard, where they will be exposed to intellectual discourse at its finest.
Andrew Hunter, chair of the philosophy department, is impressed with their ambition.
“It’s more than just a hobby,” he said. “Debate is central to university life. It’s the mark of an educated person to be able to provide arguments to support your views.”
Spevak agrees that a debate team is important but cut funding because she questions how the money was used in previous years.
She has heard from a source on the debate circuit that some of the money is spent on booze. An idea of the team renting a car to get to a far-away tournament doesn’t sit well with her either.
“We sent a team to Greece, imagine that,” she said. “Only two people went, and I don’t know how they were chosen.”
Through in-house debate tournaments says former president Shane Dingman.
“We didn’t misuse the money, you cannot use the funds for alcohol because the cheques are made out to the university.”
This semester, the debate society starts with $500.
“Debaters won’t get better sitting in a room talking to each-other,” he said. “They need to feel how good it is to go up against students from elite schools like Yale and princeton, as students of a ghetto school without a political science degree, and destroy them intellectually.”