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Audience during a debate


Intercollegiate Speech and Debate

The William Pitt Debating Union (WPDU) is a co-curricular program that serves as a hub for a wide range of speech and debate activities, including intercollegiate competitive speech and 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. Learn more on our Intercollegiate Speech and Debate page.

The Team

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 competitors have disparate backgrounds and academic concentrations, majoring in subjects ranging from computer science to philosophy. Graduate student assistant coaches weave their speech and debate pedagogy with work toward advanced degrees in communication, while faculty members in the Department of Communication direct the program. View our Join the Team page if you are interested in taking the next step in your debating journey.

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. Explore Debate in the Community for additional resources on the impact of debate.

Brains of Steel

Pittsburgh speech and debate team members 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. Our Speech Debate FAQs page addresses our most commonly asked questions and issues.