Debate in the Community

The Union is not just an academic center for debate and discussion. It also serves as a catalyst for constructive public dialogue outside the walls of the university. In this spirit, WPDU members convene public debates and pursue outreach projects designed to engage traditionally underserved students.

Public Debate

The Union frequently convenes public debates on salient and pressing topics facing local, regional and national communities. These debates typically feature a mix of student and expert advocates, audience participation periods, and formats tailored specifically for each debate. Recent topics include peer-to-peer file sharing, textbook pricing, abstinence-only sex education, and the future of Pittsburgh. In 2000, the Cross Examination Debate Association recognized the Union’s public debate efforts with the National Public Debate Award.

Pitt’s Public Debate Society is a part of the William Pitt Debating Union, continuing Robert Newman's stated goals for debate: "(1) to train students in the techniques of research, analysis, reasoning, evaluation of evidence, case construction, and public address, and (2) to motivate them to inquire into controversial and significant public issues." In order to serve both of these goals, the Society has weekly meetings to serve as open forum for students at Pitt to learn and practice argumentative skills and research public issues and public events where they will address their community. Students initiate, plan, participate in, and evaluate these public debates. Some of our activities include hosting international debate tours (e.g. British, Rwandan), engagements with the community off-campus (e.g., East End Book Exchange), IMPROVERSY (on the downtown T), youth outreach (e.g., Amachi Ambassadors Pittsburgh) and organizing events sponsored by student clubs on campus.

International Debate

The Union regularly hosts foreign national teams on their debating tours of the United States, having entertained the British, Japanese, Russian and Irish national teams. In 2000, the WPDU hosted a public debate between the national high school select teams from New Zealand and South Africa. From 2001-2006, WPDU coaches worked with the U.S. State Department to teach the public debate process as a strategy of civil society empowerment to high school students from Albania, Kosovo, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia and Montenegro.

These initiatives build on a long tradition of intercollegiate debating at Pitt, started with Robert Newman’s remarkable exchange series with the University of West Indies in the 1950s and 1960s. In addition to these direct efforts, the WPDU works with the National Communication Association to send members on international debating tours to locations including Japan and Great Britain.

Debate Outreach

Since 1995, the Union has reached thousands of elementary and secondary school students through its outreach initiatives, including the College in High School Argument program and the Middle School Public Debate Program.


For more information on Public Debate, please contact Alvin Primack at