In Memoriam: Robert P. Newman

Robert P. Newman  1922 – 2018

Robert Newman passed away April 17, 2018 in Portland, Oregon. He was 96.


Robert P. Newman was a renowned professor of public argument and celebrated debate educator in the Department of Communication at the University of Pittsburgh from 1952-1984. After retiring from Pitt, he continued to teach occasional seminars and then taught at the University of Iowa from 1995 to 2003. Author of over seventy scholarly articles, Newman also published many books, including Evidence (Houghton Mifflin, 1969)—still a classic study of the constituents of policy argument—and Owen Lattimore and the "Loss" of China (University of California Press, 1992), which was nominated for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award and received the Winans-Wichelns Award for Distinguished Scholarship from the National Communication Association (NCA) in 1993. Truman and the Hiroshima Cult (Michigan State University Press, 1995), was the recipient of the National Communication Association’s 1997 Diamond Anniversary Book Award.


As professor emeritus, Newman kept up a blistering pace of scholarly production and impact, publishing six scholarly books after retiring from active faculty status. He twice received the Winans-Wichelns Award, first in 1983 for his essay on the China White Paper of 1949. In 2000, he was named an NCA Distinguished Scholar.


His final book, Invincible Ignorance in American Foreign Policy (Peter Lang, 2012) showed how the sometimes-antiseptic method of evidentiary analysis can be enlivened with laconic wit, cementing Newman’s rank as a pre-eminent critic of public argument. Eschewing ideological shortcuts, Newman followed the evidence wherever it led. He helped write Pitt’s anti-Vietnam War statement, yet also defended the US decision to drop nuclear bombs on Japan to end World War II, anchoring both positions in rigorous and painstaking analysis of the evidence deployed to support key arguments.


In the 1930s, Newman guided summertime visitors through the Mark Twain Caves in his native hometown of Hannibal, Missouri, where he graduated from the local public high school. Shortly after receiving a BA from University of Redlands in 1942, he enlisted in the US Army and was decorated with a Bronze Star medal for valor during World War II. Following the war, Newman remained in Europe to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in politics, philosophy, and economics at Oxford University (Corpus Christi College) before returning to the US to receive a Ph.D. in education from the University of Connecticut.


As a faculty member at Pitt, Newman served as Director of Graduate Studies and Head of the Public Address division in the Department of Communication. In addition, he served as Vice President and President of the University Senate and chaired its Educational Policies Committee and the Committee on Commonwealth Relations. Newman also served the Communication discipline as President of the National Forensic Association (1958-1960).


From 1952 – 1966, Newman was Director of the William Pitt Debating Union. Under his direction, Pitt’s debate team achieved great success on the intercollegiate policy debate circuit, reaching the deep elimination rounds at virtually all of the major national tournaments and contending perennially for the National Debate Tournament championship.


Newman was a pioneer in developing formats to actualize debate’s civic mission, for example developing Pitt’s “extension” program—the Public Series—which brought top intercollegiate debate teams from across the nation to Pittsburgh for public debates staged at local high school assemblies, reaching nearly 100,000 live audience members each year. Newman also partnered with WQED on a public television program, Campus on Call, which brought Pitt students together in conversation with prominent government officials and opinion leaders, in a show some called Pittsburgh’s version of Meet the Press. As a global debate diplomat, Newman created and supervised an international debate exchange program with the University of West Indies in Jamaica, connecting Pitt students with Jamaica’s leading orators in public debates held during alternating, home-and-home public debate exchanges.


Elements of Newman’s 1962 Pittsburgh Code for Academic Debating still hang today on the walls of the William Pitt Debating Union in the Cathedral of Learning, reminding new generations that the purpose of debating is to “motivate students to inquire into significant and controversial issues,” and that “debaters should not be automatons grinding out arguments.” Newman’s legacy also lives on through the public debate events convened on campus each year by Pitt’s debating union. Such debates bring to life the keen sense of intellectual curiosity and deliberative energy depicted in the photographs of his Newman’s 1950s-era community forums on display in the Department of Communication.


Some years ago, several of Newman’s former students endowed the Robert P. Newman Fund in Debate at Pitt, which supports current activities of the William Pitt Debating Union. The family has requested that anyone who wishes to honor the memory of Robert Newman do so by donating to the Newman Fund. There are several options available to those interested in honoring Newman’s legacy with a gift to the fund:


•           On-line giving. Go to and click the Give Online link. The first screen will ask for some gift and contact information. On the second screen, enter the Robert P. Newman Fund in Debate in the option box for Other, and, if desired, indicate in memory of Robert Newman in the next box.

•           Giving by Phone. Gifts and pledges can be made by calling toll-free 1-800-817-8943, or (412) 624-5800 in Pennsylvania. This number may also be used for any questions about giving to the Fund or to Pitt.

•           Giving by Check. Please make checks payable to the University of Pittsburgh and include the note ‘for the Robert P. Newman Fund in Debate” on the subject line. If desired, add that the gift is in memory of Robert Newman. Mail can be addressed to: University of Pittsburgh, Institutional Advancement, 102 Park Plaza Building, 128 North Craig Street, Pittsburgh, PA  15260.