A co-curricular program that serves as a hub for a wide range of debating activities, including intercollegiate policy debate, public debate, and debate outreach
The William Pitt Debating Union (WPDU) is a co-curricular program that serves as a hub for a wide range of debating activities, including intercollegiate policy debate, public debate, and debate outreach. One of the oldest organizations of its kind in the nation, the Union grew originally out of the University of Pittsburgh’s Division of Public Speaking in 1912.
Today, the WPDU is housed in the University’s Department of Communication and receives support from the offices of the dean and provost. Undergraduate student debaters have disparate backgrounds and academic concentrations, majoring in subjects ranging from computer science to philosophy. Graduate student assistant coaches weave their debate pedagogy with work toward advanced degrees in communication, while two tenure-stream faculty members in the Department of Communication jointly direct the program.
Philosophy and Culture
The WPDU’s bedrock philosophy is that argument can educate as well as emancipate. By providing forums for students to sharpen critical thinking, deepen understanding of timely political issues, and hone speaking skills, the Union actualizes its educational mission. By spurring robust, inclusive discussion in the wider community, the Union performs its politically emancipatory function, serving as a catalyst for reasoned public dialogue on key issues facing local, national, and international communities.
Much of the Union’s energy in pursuing these tasks comes from a team culture that places a premium on group solidarity and cooperation. The resulting synergy enables cultivation of a rich learning environment, attainment of competitive success, achievement of scholarly excellence, and enrichment of public argument.
Brains of Steel
Pittsburgh debaters have achieved a remarkable track record of academic success, winning prestigious awards such as Rhodes, Marshall, and Javitz scholarships, as well as Fulbright and Brackenridge fellowships. The team’s commitment to academic achievement is reflected in a strict travel policy that requires debaters to juggle team research commitments while excelling in coursework.