The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

The Voice of Bates College Since 1873

The Bates Student

19 Members of Brooks Quimby Debate Council Collectively Resign in Open Letter

Nineteen members of Bates College’s debate team, the Brooks Quimby Debate Council (BQDC), collectively resigned from the team on Friday, Feb. 16. 

At 9:55 a.m., the BQDC announced their resignation on Facebook stating, “There have been 0 participation to Bates Debate this semester and the BQDC Board have decided to resign.” The post provided a Google document link to an open letter signed by all previous members of the organization, including the former BQDC President Andrew Monteith ‘24, who resigned earlier in January. Signatures also comprised those of the Acting President Tosca Neumann ‘26 and Vice President and Treasurer Robert Cropp ‘26. 

The post, signed by the “Ex-BQDC Board,” describes ex-members’ “broad equity concerns” with organization management by Director of Debate, Professor Sammi Rippetoe.

In their letter they allege that Rippetoe facilitated “an uncomfortable, harmful and inequitable team culture,” failed to meet her “professional responsibilities” and finally, external assistance from administrators was unhelpful.

Among these allegations, they claim to have heard comments by Rippetoe that were “harmful, disparaging, or discriminatory.” Additionally, they allege that the way Rippetoe determined who attended debates was made “arbitrarily without input from the team.” Their final point addresses an unsuccessful meeting to reconcile the relationship between the BQDC board and Rippetoe/Rhetoric, Film and Screen Studies Department (RFSS) during which they say their concerns were “repeatedly dismissed.” 

In response to the open letter, 55 BQDC Alumni sent a letter to Dean of Faculty Malcolm Hill expressing their deep concern for thedetestable, inequitable behavior, potential misuse of finances, and irresponsible conduct relating to international travel.” They continued, Bad faith comments about students by faculty leadership—particularly those influenced by race—are unacceptable.”

Emphasizing the importance of equity to the integrity of BQDC as an organization, the Alumni letter stated,It is important to ensure that all Bates students feel welcome on the team and are treated with respect by the Director of Debate. The actions described in the letter threaten the empowering, supportive relationships between students and faculty that make the student experience at Bates so exceptional.”

 

BQDC Background and Changes to Leadership Structure Under Rippetoe

According to BQDC ex-members, after the departure of the BQDC Director preceding former Director Jan Hovden, the college decided to allow the organization to continue as a semi-autonomous program that was not incorporated into any college institutional structures. This meant that the majority of BQDC management, including decisions about the organization’s finances and tournament attendance, fell to board members as outlined in the organization’s constitution.

Professor Rippetoe took over the position from Hovden for the 2023-24 school year to provide increased institutional support and leadership for the organization. This is in part due to the larger budget given to the program for competition travel-related expenses, making it institutionally distinct from other student-led organizations. 

“We all had a really positive start with her,” Neumann reported. However, as the semester progressed, members became increasingly troubled by Rippetoe’s management, feeling as though she was drastically changing the customs of the BQDC without seeking consultation or approval from the board. 

Concerned about Rippetoe’s financial management of BQDC, Monteith reached out on Nov. 5 to Associate Professor of RFSS Jon Cavallero requesting to meet, accompanied by Neumann.

On Nov. 7, Rippetoe emailed the board clarifying that the RFSS Department hired her in response to a need for more rigorous faculty management within the BQDC. She wrote that the previous director “did not prioritize the institutional aspects of the team.” She added that the previous [director of debate] “opted to run [BQDC affairs] ‘under the radar,’ as an isolated organization that often elided administrative checks and balances.” At the end of the email she wrote that the school was looking for a “new director who would be able to rebuild the once-strong foundation of this team.”

In that same email, Rippetoe stated that as a result of her conversations with the RFSS department, Developing Department, Accounting Department, as well as the Dean of Students, Dean of Faculty and Student Clubs and Organizations, she implemented the following changes to ensure greater transparency and increase institutional management responsibility:

“(1)   The director is responsible for all decisions on the team including budgetary and policy decisions

(2)   No more crash housing: students must be provided with dependable and safe housing for all travel

(3)   Per diems must be distributed for meals that are not provided by tournaments

(4)   When feasible, a Bates employee will attend domestic tournaments

(5)   There must be a Bates employee traveling to all international tournaments.” 

Rippetoe exercised her newfound responsibility for making all decisions for the team by canceling a trip to a Fordham tournament hosted by the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) just one week before it took place. She stated in an email to members of the organizations on Nov. 10 that “no students will attend any tournament representing Bates College without the explicit approval of the director of debate.”

In response to the open letters’ criticism of excluding board members from discussions of structural changes the college says, “This is a complicated matter; addressing these concerns will take some time and only come after careful scrutiny and broad consultation to gain the most complete understanding of the situation.”

Monteith and Beckett were displeased with the last-minute change, claiming that there had been weeks of discussion with Rippetoe supporting their attendance at the tournament. “We signed up people for Fordham, a tournament we’d been discussing verbally since the beginning of semester. We’d done it in the public chat which she’s in and she [had] not raised a single concern,” Monteith said. 

Rippetoe acknowledged the change from last year’s student-run customs, but said that it was “necessary to bring the team in line with college policies and nationally recognized debate team best practices.”

Monteith points out that this goes against the BQDC constitution by-laws which state: “The  President of the BQDC shall…register teams for tournaments.”

Beckett and Monteith proceeded to compete together as independent debaters, earning fifth overall in the Varsity competition and second and third respectively in the Varsity Speaker rankings.

 

Elimination of the APDA debating format

At a Dec. 15 meeting, Rippetoe and the RFSS department announced official changes to BQDC operations, including the suspension of program participation in American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) tournaments. 

BQDC is known for its participation in two styles of debate: British Parliamentary Debate (BP) and American Parliamentary Debate (APDA). BP is a slower, and internationally recognized style of debate. BP tournaments are individually prestigious but do not count toward an overall ranking of debate teams.

The APDA format is a faster-paced debate style with two members per team. It has been the primary debate format practiced by the BQDC in past years, and members viewed its cancellation as detrimental to the success of the organization according to the open letter. 

Monteith notes that many younger members of BQDC prefer and excel at  the APDA format and that he didn’t want to sacrifice their competitive success.

At APDA tournaments, students can earn points that accumulate over the competitive season and contribute to a national ranking of individual speakers, teams and clubs. The team accumulating the most points over five tournaments earns the Team of the Year (TOTY) award: the most prestigious APDA accomplishment a team can earn.

At the conclusion of the Fall 2023 semester, Beckett and Monteith had qualified for Nationals and were ranked fourth overall in the country. As an individual speaker, Beckett was ranked second in the country. The two believe that they had a strong chance of winning the TOTY distinction.

For Beckett, these circumstances are immensely disappointing and are reminiscent of his final year of high school. “My senior year in high school, COVID prevented me from attending the national championship,” Beckett said. “This sucked, but it was out of my control. Now I feel like the same thing is happening again, but this time it was entirely preventable and solely due to the behavior of one person.”

 

Claims of Financial Mismanagement

In addition to failure of directorial responsibilities, the letter alleges transgressions of professionalism, equity and budget management by Rippetoe. 

The letter claims that Rippetoe spent a “disproportionate amount of the teams’ budget by booking a 6 day trip to Oxford for a 2 day tournament and bringing her husband using BQDC funds who did not coach or judge.”

According to members of the BQDC board, tickets for the Oxford tournament have historically been booked for three days, in order to save money and reduce missed classes. 

According to Neumann, BQDC needed to send six debaters and two judges, at minimum, to the tournament. As indicated by travel reservations, 11 people traveled to Oxford from Nov. 8 to Nov. 14, including Rippetoe and her husband. Students report that Rippetoe’s husband did not perform any debate related activities.

The open letter claims that neither “the director nor her husband were present at the tournament other than the opening announcements and the end of one round.”

In response to The Student’s request for financial records that verify whether Rippetoe used BQDC funds to buy an extra ticket for her husband, Bates replies that “The college cannot give access to those records, but will be reviewing all aspects of the debate team’s concerns, including who paid for Professor Rippetoe’s husband plane ticket.”

The Student is unable to confirm whether Rippetoe used personal or BQDC funding to pay for her husband’s ticket, but can confirm that a ticket was purchased for him. 

The open letter also accused Rippetoe of favoritism, alleging she rejected “the use of external trials and choosing which students to send to Oxford and Worlds based on vague criteria. This includes selecting and rejecting certain students without ever watching some of them debate or being involved in the coaching process.”

In direct response to allegations of favoritism earlier in the semester regarding tournament attendance, Rippetoe wrote in the Nov. 7 email, “I am not assessing these rumors as being objectively true or outrightly false. What I do know is that these perceptions are toxic to team culture.”

The college says it is dedicated to investigating the claims about financial mismanagement made in the open letter. “The allegations made in the open letter are serious, and the college is fully committed to reviewing them thoroughly, engaging with our students and faculty, and finding a productive way forward. This will take some time. It should be noted that the college remains steadfast in our commitment to debate at Bates.”

 

Failed Attempts for Reconciliation

The open letter states that BQDC members tried to reconcile their differences with the Rippetoe via official channels to no avail. According to Monteith and Neumann, a meeting occurred after Thanksgiving break to discuss concerns about Rippetoe and the financial management of the debate team. “They completely shut us down,” Monteith said in an interview with The Student

Following the suspension of APDA, Monteith and Beckett requested, via an email sent the same day, to meet with Rippetoe and Professor Stephanie Kelley-Romano to discuss these changes and their participation in upcoming APDA tournaments. However, no meeting was ever scheduled.

On Jan. 12, Neumann requested to meet with Rippetoe to “discuss how we want to move forward in the upcoming semester, as well as issues such as the current constitution and the role you want the board to have.” Neumann reports that this email was never answered. 

Having exhausted all formal channels of resolutions, the former BQDC board decided to resign in an open letter. As of last week there are currently no active members of the 169 year old organization.

In the final line of their open letter the ex-board writes, “We call upon Bates to listen to its students, resolve this situation, and enforce its own equity and inclusion policies so BQDC can remain a home for future generations of debaters.”

Editorial Note: This story was temporarily taken down on Feb. 16 shortly after being published in order to get a comment on Professor Rippetoe’s behalf. This story is developing and The Student intends to continue reporting on this issue.

A PDF of the open letter can be found at the top of this article.

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About the Contributors
Trinity Poon, Managing News Editor
Trinity is a sophomore from Sandwich, MA with a double major in English and French. She has been writing for The Student since the Fall of her first-year. She is a member of the Women's Ultimate Frisbee team, Cold Front, and plays the trumpet at Bates. When she is not writing and tossing disks, Trinity enjoys reading, running and spending time outdoors. 
Zoe Schaedle, Managing News Editor
Zoe is a Sophomore from Philadelphia, PA. She is currently undecided, but is leaning towards a double major in History and Classical and Medieval Studies. In her free time, Zoe enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, volunteering, going to the beach, cooking, or playing/watching sports.    Previously, Zoe served as a staff writer for The Student as a first year. She is also on the Bates Women’s Lacrosse team, and is an active mentor for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Maine.
Ella Beiser, Editor-in-Chief
Ella is a Junior from Chicago double majoring in Politics and Hispanic Studies. In her free time, Ella enjoys hosting a WRBC radio show, working in the greenhouse and biking around Lewiston. She is the Editor in Chief of The Student and previously served as an Assistant News Editor and Assistant Features Editor for The Student. She freelances for her local newspaper the South Side Weekly, has been published in the Maine Monitor and Vocalo Radio and in summer 2023 she was a reporting intern for the Lewiston Sun Journal.

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  • S

    steve doshMar 7, 2024 at 10:35 AM

    . .The debate is enjoined √

    Reply
  • A

    Alum, ‘21Feb 26, 2024 at 8:57 PM

    Really disappointed in how un-Bates-like this entire ordeal was. These are extremely bright, capable, determined adults we are talking about here, yet their agency in serving as leaders and decision-makers in this club was tossed aside for total, unfair, and illogical dictatorship. Yikes. BQDC students, I hope you are given the chance to do continue to pursue APDA tournaments with autonomy, and without Rippetoe. Don’t let her destroy an amazing opportunity at Bates that has been over 100 years in the making. Such a shame. Bates College, do better. Rippetoe, recall you are working with adults, not children — perhaps you are not always right and due sole decision-making power. Yikes.

    Reply
  • A

    A BDQC ParentFeb 24, 2024 at 9:43 PM

    As the parent of a BQDC debater, I want the alumni to know how much your support means to the club. They have felt pretty alone throughout this ordeal, with no meaningful support from the administration, so your backing has meant the world. Also, as a parent, I want to say that the school’s intransigence means that the kids are now driving themselves to tournaments, some of them pretty far away. The weekend before spring break they drove to New Jersey and back. How can Bates think that is a workable solution, or even one that is acceptable for however much longer they feel they need to take to fix this?

    Reply
  • D

    Dan SchwagerFeb 24, 2024 at 9:51 AM

    As president of the BQDC in ‘92/‘93, I brought the first ever US based North American Parliamentary Debate Championships (an APDA event, the only kind we participated in) to Bates with the tremendous support of the President, the administration and the phenomenal and incredibly beloved coach (“Director of Debate”) Bob Branham. We researched and proposed a budget to the president, and when we suggested how we might raise the funds, the President told us not to worry about it. But most of all it was a team effort, with student directors in charge of every aspect, assisted and backed up by our faculty administrators and coaches where needed.
    I wasn’t a phenomenal debater like some of my teammates and many before and after me, but I grew in skill, confidence, maturity and responsibility through the BQDC. I didn’t come from a well travelled family, but I got to travel to Oxford and Dublin, frequently to Canada, and regularly up and down the East coast, almost always without a coach or assistant coach along with us. Bob and our assistants like Paul Rosenthal and Eric Fuchs were vital to our developing skills and ran practices as coaches should, careful and caring to nurture and push everyone who came out for the team. But for tournaments, we were usually on our own, as was almost every other team on the APDA circuit.
    Debate and APDA have stuck with me through the years. At one point, working as a staff director in a congressional committee, my subcommittee chairman was a former Bates debater who had been coached by the now-legendary furniture maker Thos. Moser. I always remember one of my first rounds as a first year was against one of the best teams in the league, a Yale team, one of whom is the now renowned economist Austin Goolsby, and he and his partner could not have been nicer to a couple of rookies. I also remember fondly taking top speaker in the only round I debated against now-Senator Ted Cruz. I remember less fondly how he and a friend acted in a late night game of cards in the lobby of a Dublin hotel, and I see many of the old APDA tricks of the trade in the way he tries to persuade people even today.
    Now, as an old lawyer, I can imagine, though hope it’s not true, that ever more burdensome insurance or liability demands might crack down on student independence. But if that’s not the reason for the changes listed in the article, and if the article is correct about those changes, then they should be reversed at least in part. BQDC is a wonderful part of Bates History and respected on the APDA circuit on both sides of the Atlantic. If there had been questions about student managed funds (we, gratefully, didn’t deal with our own budget when I was there) then it should be addressed respectfully and thoughtfully and discussed with the students, rather than imposed without, well, debate.
    I do hope for the students and college’s sake that a new productive path can be found that looks at the value and ways of APDA and all possibilities and preserves both the history and the future of Bates Debate.

    Reply
  • A

    Amy Keith '99Feb 24, 2024 at 9:47 AM

    As a BQDC alumni, I find this shocking and agree with other commenters that the school’s response is very unlike the Bates I knew. I did not have a debate team in high school, so I learned at APDA tournaments, then applied what I learned in international tournaments, and eventually broke at Worlds my senior year. BQDC is/was unique because it offered the chance to learn and debate in different styles and because it was led by students who mentored each other. I consider BQDC to have been one of the most valuable parts of my Bates education with respect to impact on my professional success. I truly hope the administration fixes this, and fast, to minimize damage to this time-honored and nationally respected program.

    Reply
  • B

    Brian McBrideFeb 22, 2024 at 2:12 PM

    This seems akin to the hard feeling surrounding the college take-over of the student run Outing Club. Students and advisors who ran the club for years felt disrespected and so-empowered as they lost decision making power.

    Reply
  • J

    JohnFeb 22, 2024 at 11:50 AM

    I am a graduate from Bates. The institution recently has gone the route of appeasement for any outrage or controversy. I wish Bates would stand for any sort of principle rather than replying with lawyer speak and covering their behinds. There is a serious problem with the powers that be, and their relationship with students. Here’s to hoping Bates gains some integrity, because responses like these are ruining the institution’s reputation.

    Reply
  • M

    Matthew Chlastawa '20Feb 21, 2024 at 5:04 PM

    While not an alum of debate, I hope that my experience in the Rhetoric Department and efforts in the competitive field as a Bobcat add some ethos to my perspective here. Organizations live and die by their leaders; if the students cannot, will not, or should not support their leader, then the team will not thrive. I assume that the world of debate is much like any other competitive endeavor: if you’re fighting internally, there is very little chance you will be ready for the challenges that come in the face of external competition. As such, as an alum who wants to see Bobcats win, I’d like to amplify what fellow alum Dylan Desjardins ’18 has said and add a call to action for the Bates Administration responsible for cleaning up this mess: find a new leader for the program who will serve with ardor and devotion the students who enter the verbal battlefield wearing garnet.

    Reply
  • C

    ChrisFeb 21, 2024 at 1:13 PM

    Everything described here seems very un-Bates-like.

    Advice to Bates administration: avoid resorting to lawyer-speak about being “fully committed to reviewing [the claims] thoroughly…” I’m sure Bates has good intentions here, but these types of bland statements are usually the first sign that everyone is going to be utterly disappointed by what comes next.

    Regardless of where the truth lies, everything here has already spun out-of-hand; it should never have reached this point. Take ownership of whatever missteps led to this, be transparent about the facts and hold people accountable.

    In other words, try to be what we all love about Bates. Don’t sit on your hands, wait for an issue like this to explode, and then issue a generic copy-and-paste lawyer statement assuring us that all will be well.

    Reply
  • D

    Dylan DesjardinsFeb 21, 2024 at 8:44 AM

    Debater on the team from 2014-2018. While I haven’t really thought about debate in years, really upsetting to see the changes being foisted on the team and hear the allegations of toxic behavior by a faculty advisor.

    When I was on the team students lived, talked and breathed the world of debate constantly. Nobody knew better than my fellow students both how to cleverly construct an argument in our style, but also how to navigate the politics and logistics of attending dozens of debate tournaments a year. I’m extremely inclined to believe these students and trust their expertise about what is valuable/necessary for the team to succeed (especially given their obvious continued success).

    Many of the policy changes by admin seem poorly researched. For example, participation in the APDA style of debate is central to increasing accessibility in debate. This style of debating takes place every weekend and allows students of any skill level to compete head to head against Ivy League and NESCAC schools. To remove this as an option means that only the “best” debaters will ever debate in person at highly selective events. That the new faculty director made the decision to end APDA debating against the wishes of student debaters is just one signal to me that this is not an effective leader of the BQDC.

    Reply
  • L

    Liberty '08Feb 20, 2024 at 11:48 PM

    Yikes. Keeping an eye on this as an alum. Would love more context on the decisions made here. If even a portion of the alleged behavior has basis, it’s incredibly concerning.

    Reply
    • D

      Doug Curtis JrFeb 28, 2024 at 10:54 PM

      As the father of a former Bates faculty member who led the Bates team at a very young age I have only attended one debate at Bates. I was very impressed with the expertise of all the students who debated that day. I certainly am aware of the travel challenges these students face and the amount of work they put in to their craft. I think what is more important is what they learn through their journey win or lose. As a former assistant professor at Davidson College which employs an honor code where students are responsible for their own education; I would put my trust in the hands of the students to make the right decisions. A great faculty member would ensure fairness in this process, but it should be student driven.

      Reply