Towson debate team becomes center of debate

There is a debate raging on the campus of Towson University over a nationally ranked team.

Members of the debate team say they have been blocked from participating in an important Harvard University tournament this weekend because of conflicts with their former coach.

Ameena Ruffin, 21, a City College graduate and debate team member, said she does not understand the university's decision. Teams that do well at the Harvard competition, she said, have a better chance of garnering an invitation to the national championships.

"We have worked hard. We have been successful at it," said Ruffin.

But Towson officials say the Harvard tournament was never on the team's schedule. The officials also said the debate team members had agreed to this year's schedule, which was determined with their input.

"In consultation with their coach, the current debate team members have had full participation in their competitive schedule," university officials said in a statement.

The students said that, like college athletes, many of them were recruited by the university because of their debating skills. Towson's debate club won a national championship in 2008. Team members said they have raised money on their own to cover the costs of attending the event.

The students said in an interview that they had difficulty getting along with their former coach, Steven Davis. Attempts to reach the coach were unsuccessful.

According to the university's statement, Davis "was reassigned to make the students and Mr. Davis more comfortable."

"Earlier this semester, Towson swiftly investigated and addressed all concerns brought to our attention from members of the debate team. There were no findings that warranted further investigation or sanctions," university officials said in a statement.

Kevin Whitley, a debate team member, said the schedule was determined by a large class taking debate. But few of them take part in the off-campus schedule, he said.

"Our argument from the beginning is that this is a forced and false choice and does not take into account the importance of this tournament to our competitive success," said Whitley, a junior and graduate of Talent Development High School in Baltimore.

"The university has done a great job of repeating its general stance in regards to the original decision to exclude Harvard from our schedule, but has done a very poor job of responding to our concerns, which have been outlined clearly and repeatedly," he added.

"We are ranked in the top 20 teams in the country," said Whitley, who is hoping that the team may yet find a way to compete in Boston this weekend.

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