Debate championship team with their trophy

KU alumnus makes $500,000 gift for debate team — largest gift in team's history

David Pittaway
David Pittaway

David Pittaway is a sixth-generation Kansan whose ancestors moved to Kansas prior to the Civil War. He has lived out of state since graduating from the University of Kansas in 1972, yet still considers Kansas his home. To show his support for Kansas, KU and KU’s debate team, in which he participated as a student, Pittaway has made a $500,000 gift to create an endowed fund to support the debate team’s head coach. This is the largest gift in the debate team’s history.

Pittaway and his wife, Jeannine, live in Rochester, Mich., and Naples, Fla. He is Senior Managing Director of Castle Harlan, Inc., a New York City private equity investment firm where he has worked since its founding in 1987.

His pride in KU’s debate team is evident. “The team has won five national championships, as many as the men’s basketball program,” said Pittaway. “In addition, KU ranks in the top five universities in debate nationally. The others are all private universities — including Harvard, Northwestern, Dartmouth and Emory. KU is absolutely by leaps and bounds the best public university in debate.” 

Danny Anderson, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, expressed appreciation for the gift. “This professorship fund will provide essential resources to sustain a legacy of stellar debate coaches, including Scott Harris and Donn Parson, who have been crucial to the program’s success,” said Anderson.

A Summerfield Scholar, Pittaway arrived at KU in the fall of 1969, planning to participate in debate throughout college. But, he decided to take a heavier course load so that he could graduate in three years. Knowing he would need more time to study, he left the debate team. After earning a bachelor’s degree from KU in History, Political Science and American Studies, he went to Harvard University, where he earned a Juris Doctorate and an MBA. 

Pittaway said his gift reflects inspiration from his former debate coaches — Donn Parson, a professor of communication studies at KU, and the late Gerald Ashen, a KU alumnus who coached debate at Shawnee Mission South High School.

Experience in debate benefits students throughout their careers, said Pittaway. “Debate helps you be generally prepared in a public speaking environment. And it helps in negotiations because you understand what arguments the other side will be making, so you can be prepared to co-opt or refute them to come to a successful agreement. This has been invaluable in my career.”

The gift for the David B. Pittaway Professorship of Debate counts toward Far Above: The Campaign for Kansas, the university’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign. Far Above seeks support to educate future leaders, advance medicine, accelerate discovery and drive economic growth to seize the opportunities of the future. 

The campaign is managed by KU Endowment, the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.

Michelle Keller

Assistant Vice President, Communications and Donor Relations 785-832-7336

Michelle Strickland

Media Relations 785-832-7363