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Editorial, El Paso Times

UTEP dean's generosity helps students

Posted:07/26/2013 12:00:00 AM MDT

UTEP's dean of liberal arts, Patricia Witherspoon, has given a gift back to the university that is notable for a couple of reasons.

Witherspoon donated $50,000 to establish the John McCormick Witherspoon Forensics Excellence Gift Fund. The fund, which is named for the dean's husband who passed away in April, will provide scholarships and travel funds for UTEP's nationally recognized forensics program.

The gift from Witherspoon is a wonderful statement about the future of the university. When a top administrator makes a gift like this, it is a signal to other donors that UTEP is worthy of their philanthropy.

And the gift is going to a university program that has been a model of success for decades but has gotten little recognition. Under the direction of communications Professor Mary Trejo, the forensic program has provided generations of students with public speaking and analytical skills that enhance their education and prepare them to be leaders in their communities and chosen fields.

In creating the fund, the Witherspoon family said, "We are very proud to establish this fund in John's honor; he was very fond of the forensics program at UTEP and its students and sought to raise money for it as one of his charitable activities. UTEP was a very special place to him, and we are gratified we can establish this fund which, first and foremost, benefits students from multiple UTEP departments and colleges."

The forensics program each year racks up scores of trophies at debate and public speaking competitions. UTEP students have won in national competitions over the years.

Despite the success, the program struggles each year to find the money to get students the experience they need to be competitive.

The gift from Witherspoon, a former chair of UTEP's communications department, will help ease the money scramble and allow Trejo to focus more on where she excels -- teaching and coaching.

"John Witherspoon was a great friend to the UTEP forensics program," Trejo said. "Patricia Witherspoon's exceptionally generous gift establishing the John McCormick Witherspoon Forensics Excellence Gift Fund in honor of his memory will have an enormous positive impact on UTEP speech and debate students, particularly in the key areas of enhanced recruitment of bright, talented competitors and of highly trained graduate teaching assistants, as well as in the increased education and training opportunities for UTEP team members resulting from expanded resources for travel to speech and debate competitions outside our region."

Others can donate to the fund online at

We commend Witherspoon for her generosity and her continued commitment to UTEP and its students. Her gift is even more remarkable coming at a time of family grief.

And we wish Trejo and her students all the best in the coming year.

We know they will represent El Paso well.

Dr. Mary Trejo, Director of Forensics, or
Dr. Carlos Tarin, Assistant Director of Forensics,
Michael Brooks, Debate Coach,

The UTEP Forensics Program is always looking for new talent...

So, Come on down and join UTEP's
State, Regional and National Speech Champions

Learn how to excel in
Public Speaking~Interpretation of Literature~Debate

Speech Team Opportunities & Scholarship Information Available

You really don't need any experience; we will train you.  You do need to be willing to encounter new ideas, learn effective communication techniques, work with talented people, and travel to new places. 

You are always welcome to drop by our classes--
come visit us!

The ongoing confusion about the meaning of the term Forensics is concisely addressed

by the good webmaster at the National Forensic Association website:

2. So do you have anything to do with science or the study of dead bodies?
No, although both do share some origins. As Golden, Berquist and Coleman note, "Legal speaking in the law courts was referred to as forensic discourse" (Rhetoric of Western Thought, 3rd edition, Kendall/Hunt, 1983, p. 39). Aristotle's Rhetoric (book 1, 3.5) describes three forms of speaking. One is forensics, for which Aristotle notes: "The end of the forensic speaker is the just or the unjust." In book 1, 3.4, Aristotle defines forensic speaking as "either accusatory or defensive, for litigants must necessarily either accuse or defend." (Both quotations come from the J.H. Freese translation, Harvard University Press, 1926). 
So how do people tend to look at both of forms of forensics as the same? Golden, Berquist and Coleman suggest it is because forensic discourse "deals with happenings in the past as in the case of alleged criminality" (ibid, p. 60).

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Class Schedule

COMM 2201, Forensic Practicum-Debate
MW 4:30- 5:50 PM, Cotton 103

Individual Events:
COMM 2202, Forensic Practicum-Individual Events
MW 6:00-7:20 PM, Cotton 103

Any UTEP student is eligible to enroll;
no prerequisites, no signature necessary!

See details in "How to Join" tab
Director, UTEP Forensics Program
Office: 915-747-5431; Cell: 915-479-5608


MARY TREJO~Director of Forensics
CARLOS TARIN~Assistant Director of Forensics
Katherine Ramirez~Graduate Teaching Assistant
Manuel Duran~Head Team Captain
Matthew Magee~Debate Captain



To reach and truly communicate with someone, it is necessary to engage the attention, to push aside barriers of boredom or monotony or even civility, and actually get that person to focus on what is being communicated. In literature or drama as well as in the other arts we can see moments of epiphany, of lightning bolts of realization and clarity; so too it is with the verbal communication of ideas. Lightning-like shocks of clarity may not come around often enough, but they do occur, and are events to be sought after and treasured.

Such is the case with the best forensic training. Debaters, public speakers and interpreters of literature are urged to think, to create, and to excel. Originality is prized and rewarded. This atmosphere of attentive and engaged minds is greatly fostered in the exhausting but exhilarating phenomenon of the forensics tournament. The lifetime legacy of training in Debate, Public Speaking and Oral Interpretation of Literature is the ability to conceptualize and communicate ideas clearly, effectively, and with lasting resonance.

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