Debate office named in honor of donors

In recognition of their support of the University of Michigan Debate program, the Debate Team Director’s Office in the Michigan Union was officially named the Charles and Lisa Spies Debate Director’s Office on February 11 at an appreciation ceremony. The couple have also established the Charles and Lisa Spies Debate Team Scholarships Fund.

“The Spies’ support of Debate at Michigan is consistent with Charlie and Lisa’s active engagement of college students in their area of professional expertise,” explained University of Michigan Regent Ronald Weiser.

The Spies are proud to support Debate at the University of Michigan because it teaches the critical skills of listening, understanding across differences. 

A Grand Rapids native now residing in Washington, D.C., Charles Spies was a nationally ranked Debater in high school, then continued at the University of Michigan and also worked summers at the Michigan Debate Institute. A graduate of the University of Michigan (LSA `95) and Georgetown University Law (‘98), he now is in the Political Law practice at the Dickinson Wright law firm in Washington D.C., where he provides counsel to national political organizations and campaigns. He also serves on the Board of the Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service and has spoken on politics and election law at Yale, Harvard, University of Chicago, Notre Dame Law School, Georgetown and George Washington universities.

“The strong support of debate alumni is integral to the competitive success of the team. Charlie has been a major contributor to the debate team and our alum network for several years and this new endowment ensures significant financial support to get top high school debaters from the country to attend the University of Michigan and participate in the program,” said Aaron Kall, Director of Michigan Debate. “The successful recruiting of these top students and debaters remains the number one priority of the program and this generous gift from Charlie and Lisa will go a long way toward making this a reality.”

The University of Michigan Debate Program, which began in 1903, is one of the oldest debate programs in the United States. The team is committed to student learning and development via participation in intercollegiate collegiate debate. Through its varsity traveling team, summer national high school debate institute, urban debate outreach efforts in Detroit, and the hosting of a national high school debate tournament, the team activities facilitate and enrich the educational experience of current and potential future students.

The team has won second place or been runner-up at the National Debate Tournament four times (in 1989, 1991, 2014, and 2015) and has achieved third place at the National Debate Tournament eight times (in 1988, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011, 2016, 2018.) The team has reached the elimination rounds at the tournament for 13 straight years and at least the Sweet 16 for the last seven years in a row.

The skills and experiences the Debate Team provides are the building blocks for both life and career success, according to Kall.

 “The UM Debate Team is currently positioning to win the National Championship in the next few years, and Charlie and Lisa’s support of that program through recruiting scholarships is vital to that effort,” said Kall. “One of the most important skills for debate success is learning and understanding both sides of an issue so that you can effectively advocate on either side. Debate teaches us the value of dialoguing across differences.”  

Debate Team member, Jonah Jacob agrees. “The Spies’ support for the debate team is incredibly appreciated by the entire team and really demonstrates the tight-knit culture fostered by the UM Debate Team. Having alumni continue to track and contribute to our success inspires the team to compete as hard as the debaters that came before us,” he said.  “As one of the older members on the team, I have served as a leader and mentor for the underclassmen. The Spies’ donation shows that this process never ends; even when I graduate, I seek to follow their lead and remain vested in the success of the future debaters that come through such a valuable, dynamic organization.”

Effective debate is essential now more than ever, Kall said. 

“In our highly polarized society — where engaged and appropriate dialogue across different mindsets is so important — the Spies support of the University of Michigan Debate Team is invaluable,” Kall said.

To learn more about the Debate Team, visit To support the team, or other University of Michigan programs please visit the Student Life website.

Featured in the photo on the left: Ashton Smith (UM student/debater), Thomas Vance (UM student/debater), Val McIntosh (UM Debate Coach), Charlie Spies, Kelly Skoulikaris (UM student/debater), Aaron Kall, Kurt Fifelski (Asst. Director of Debate), Josh Harrington (UM student/debater), Dustin Meyers-Levy (UM Debate Coach/UM alum), and Kevin Hirn (UM Debate Coach/UM alum). 

Featured in the photo on the right: Former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; with donors Charles and Lisa Spies; and University of Michigan Board of Regents Chair Ron Weiser.