Letter to the Editor: Barbara Schmitt et al.

Over the last four decades, we graduated from Concordia College and were ‘sent forth’ into the world inspired and guided by the mission of the college, which, each in our own way, we adopted as our personal mission, “to influence the affairs of the world by sending into society thoughtful and informed men and women dedicated to the Christian life.” Since our graduation, we have attempted to put that mission into practice.

We have all found that a critical part of our ability to accomplish that mission was our experience with the Concordia debate team. Each of us has used the skills, knowledge and experience that we developed as part of the Concordia debate team to influence the affairs of the world in a thoughtful, informed and Christian way. Most of us feel that debate taught us as much – or more – as our classes.

Sadly, it appears, after 120 years, the administration is considering cancelling that program. This is completely baffling to us.  How could Concordia eliminate a program which has contributed so much over to the development of ‘thoughtful and informed men and women’ that have influenced the affairs of the world? 

It can’t be because debate is not relevant in today’s world.  Debate teaches research, the ability to distinguish not only fact from fiction, but differentiation among sources and types of fact – skills that have never been more important than they are today.   It also teaches empathy, as a student learns about and then defends both sides of an issue.   Debate helps to give a student a perspective on the world, from well beyond the Great Plains, through collaboration and competition with other institutions.

We have been told that the decision is related to finances, which seems curious, given that the program isn’t particularly expensive, and in any case the college will likely lose the amount of any savings – and more – in tuition income that would have come from current and future student recruits. The elite policy debate program drew us to Concordia. The college will lose even more from the cancellation of current and future donation commitments from alumni.

It’s also not for lack of support from faculty or students – there are active debaters who might have this opportunity to learn and compete taken from them, there are supportive faculty and assistants in place.

Why then?  We can only guess that the Concordia has lost its way; perhaps forgetting the mission that has guided it since the early 1960s.   This is especially sad at a time when our public discussions around politics, climate change, international affairs, public health, and more could certainly use as many more ‘thoughtful and informed men and women’ as we can get.

It is a fact of life that it is often too easy to end something, and often much too hard to start something.  We truly hope the college reconsiders this path before it is too late, and they lose an important part of meeting their mission, forever.

Joseph Schmitt, Attorney, Class of 1989

Barbara [Pavicic] Schmitt, Senior Director, Microsoft, Class of 1990

Cort Sylvester, Attorney, Class of 1989

Robert C Groven, Associate Professor, Augsburg University, Class of 1989

Joel Iverson, PhD, Professor, University of Montana, Class of 1987

Erin Conroy, Owner, Conroy Legal Services, Class of 1996

Courtney Ward-Reichard, Attorney, Class of 1989

Robyn [Roberts] Van Horn, Wayzata High School English Teacher, Class of 1989

Sarah Topp, PhD, Jury Consultant, Class of 2003

Todd Trautman, Director of Analytics, Cigna, Class of 1991

Rachel [Endorf] Baumann, Farmington High School Special Education Teacher and Head Debate Coach, Class of 1993

Lynn [Sentman] Schmitt, Edina High School Debate Coach, Class of 1992

Sheila Peterson, Director of Debate, Edina High School, Class of 1997

Jenny [Foss] Puzzo, Class of 1995

Jeffrey Dixon, Associate Professor, Texas A&M, Class of 1994

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