FAQ: Academics

How do academics and debate at UNLV fit together?

We strongly believe that success in a student’s classes and success in competitive debate are complementary and mutually reinforcing. It’s no exaggeration to say that participating in policy debate provides one of the best educational experiences that a college student can receive. A few of the many educational skills that participating in policy debate helps students to build include research and organizational skills, critical thinking and analysis skills, public speaking skills, and the ability to quickly comprehend complex readings. It is no coincidence that the best debaters are also often the best students. The potential drawback to debate is that it becomes so all-consuming that debaters may begin to neglect their classes. To hedge against that risk, the director and coaching staff of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum will continually reinforce the message that academics should come before debate, and we will monitor student grades and attendance to ensure that our debaters are making satisfactory academic progress.

Is there a grade requirement to participate on the UNLV debate team?

Academics should always come before debate. Given the complementary nature of success in policy debate and success in a student’s classes, it is seldom necessary to enforce a minimum grade requirement. However, the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum is dedicated to the value of education and academic success. We expect every member of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum to make satisfactory academic progress in all of his or her classes and to graduate. Debaters must maintain a minimum of a 2.5 GPA in order to compete for the team (you must have a cumulative 2.75 in order to receive a UNLV Debate Scholarship). In the rare instance that a debater fails to maintain a 2.5 GPA, the debater will be placed on Debate Academic Probation and may face curtailment of his or her travel schedule until such time as the debater's grades improve to an acceptable level. Most members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum maintain a GPA well above 3.5.

Will I miss classes for debate, and how will participation affect my grades?

Most college debate tournaments have preliminary rounds on Saturday and Sunday and elimination rounds on Monday. This means that we typically travel on Friday and compete Saturday through Monday. In most cases, we will be able to return from tournaments by late Monday (or very early Tuesday). For most tournaments, you will only miss classes that on Fridays and/or Mondays.

UNLV classes are scheduled in three different blocks: 1) on Mondays and Wednesdays, 2) on Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3) and on Fridays. It is important that you minimize the overall number of classes that you miss. This can be accomplished by primarily scheduling your classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays and by avoiding Friday classes altogether (which is normally possible). Fortunately, the UNLV Undergraduate Catalog of Academic Policies specifies that students missing class for university sponsored activities (like debate) are to be allowed to make up missed work, if they give their instructors adequate notice — the pertinent UNLV policy statement dealing with classes missed because of a University-sponsored activity is copied below.

In accordance with the UNLV faculty senate-approved policy regarding class time and assignments missed, students who represent UNLV in any official extracurricular activity shall also have the opportunity to make up assignments, provided that the student provides official written notification to the instructor no less than one week prior to the missed class(es).

The spirit and intent of the policy is to offer fair and equitable opportunities to all students, including those representing the university in extracurricular activities. Instructors should consider, for example, that in courses which offer a "drop one" option for the lowest assignment, quiz, or exam, assigning the student a grade of zero for an excused absence for extracurricular activity is both contrary to the intent of the faculty senate's policy, and an infringement on the student's right to complete all work and fairly earn his or her grade in the course.

This policy shall not apply in the event that completing the assignment or administering the examination at an alternate time would impose an undue hardship on the instructor or the university that could reasonably have been avoided. There should be a good faith effort by both faculty and student to come to a reasonable resolution. When disagreements regarding this policy do arise, they can be appealed to the department chair/unit director, college/school dean, and/or the Faculty Senate Academic Standards Committee.

For purposes of definition, extracurricular activities may include, but are not limited to: fine arts activities, intercollegiate athletics, science and engineering competitions, liberal arts competitions, recruitment activities, and any other event or activity sanctioned by a college/school dean, and/or the Executive Vice President and Provost.

Finally, whenever you are not traveling with the team, we expect you to faithfully attend all of your classes. The grades and attendance of all members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum will be monitored by the coaching staff. Missing classes when you are not traveling jeopardizes your grades, your standing in the class, and the reputation of the entire Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum. Debaters found to be skipping classes will be subject to sanctions from the Director of Debate.

Can I receive college credit for participation in debate at UNLV?

Yes — the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum is set up to allow students to receive up to sixteen total credits for participating in debate at UNLV over four years/eight semesters. Each semester, members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum are expected to register in the Communication Studies class "Intercollegiate Forensics" (COM 105, 106, 205, 206, 305, 306, 405, 406). Instructor’s consent (which can be given only by the Director of Debate) is required in order to be able to register for these classes. Registering for Intercollegiate Forensics reserves time in your class schedule to attend squad meetings. In addition, signing up for the Intercollegiate Forensics class allows students to receive graded credit for the time and effort that they put into debate — a co-curricular activity.

Do I have to major in communication studies in order to be a member of the UNLV debate team?

No — members of the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum may major in any discipline/department that they choose. Some UNLV debaters do major in Communication Studies, but others major in disciplines ranging from Political Science to Accounting. If you are open to the possibility, we would encourage you to consider majoring in Communication Studies. For more information on the major or the department, see the Communication Studies website or contact Dr. Jake Thompson.

The Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum is classified as a "departmental organization" by the university and is housed in the Department of Communication Studies. The Department of Communication Studies generously provides many forms of support for the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum. The department is responsible for the rebirth of the team, provides a great deal of administrative and technical support to the team, financially supports the director of debate’s faculty position, and supports graduate assistantships for the assistant debate coaches.

How well does UNLV debate prepare me for graduate school, law school, or another future career?

The Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum is dedicated to seeing its debaters succeed in competition, in undergraduate academics, and beyond. Policy debate, especially at UNLV, prepares undergraduate students for incredible success in graduate school, law school, and other future careers. Our recent graduates have gone on to success in graduate school, law school, and the private sector. Alumni of the UNLV Debate Team (before it was the Sanford I. Berman Debate Forum) include a recent appointee to the Federal Bench, a Las Vegas judge, and many other prominent positions. The sheer number of former policy debaters who are successful in hundreds of careers, but especially as attorneys, educators, government officials, and businesspeople, demonstrates the ways that debate prepares students for the future.