Retired professor’s merits not debatable

September 8, 2000

Retired professor’s merits not debatable

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ANN ARBOR—William Colburn, a retired University of Michigan professor, was recently honored for his years of coaching the U-M Debate Team.

The William Colburn Award recognizes Colburn’s tenure as a coach during the 1960s and 1970s. The award will be given each year to the outstanding debate team at the University. In addition to being the debate coach, Colburn was a professor in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts and the School of Business Administration, and he was associate director of the Alumni Association from 1984 to 1995.

The William Colburn Award was the idea of Lee Hess, a U-M graduate who donated the money to honor his former debate coach.

“Bill re-created the debate program in the 1960s,” said Hess, “and he tirelessly served the University for years, up through his work in the Alumni Association in the 1980s. He is a great representative of Michigan and this was just a little thing I wanted to do to recognize this exceptional man.”

Colburn says he keeps in contact with many of his former debaters, such as Hess, who have gone onto careers in business, medicine, law, and academics. “I think debate is the best of all extracurricular activities because it teaches you how to handle information that is constantly changing. Students learn what good evidence is and how to analyze it. This skill translates well to any field,” said Colburn.

He added, “The thing that stands out is not so much the winning or losing of tournaments because Michigan kids are always going to do well. They’re very bright or they wouldn’t be here. The thing that stands out is watching those students after they leave the University and how well they do. And debate played a role in that and that makes me feel wonderful.”

Colburn is currently featured on “The Great Debate and Beyond” (, a Web site devoted to the upcoming presidential debates. The site is sponsored by the Museum of Broadcast Communications and AT&T.

Colburn and his wife, Colette, live in Jackson, Mich.

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