Of all of the professors and coaches who have shaped the UCLA Debate Union, none have had as great an impact as Dr. Charles A. Marsh, the founding professor of the nearly 100-year-old organization. Born in Ohio, in 1872, he received his B.S. at the New Lyme Institute in 1894, and then obtained his PhD from the Columbia University School of Expression in 1898.
Before coming to UCLA, Dr. Marsh began his career through founding the departments of speech at three universities: Iowa Wesleyan, Simpson College, and Morningside College. After additionally serving as the National Secretary of the forensics honor society, Pi Kappa Delta, Dr. Marsh then came to UCLA, where he used his extreme enthusiasm and rich experience to create the speech and debate team.
A mere two years after his taking a position as debate coach, UCLA went from a school with little speech and debate presence to a school whose debaters won 82 percent of over 200 varsity debates, who’s women were the undisputed winners of their varsity debate conference, whose men took third place out of 220 in their varsity debate national conference, and whose student’s took first place in the national speech contest. At the start of his career, the debate squad consisted of 12 students. At the time of his death, the debate squad consisted of over 60 students. Without Professor Marsh, none of these accomplishments would have been possible.
Dr. Marsh helped to revolutionize not only the UCLA Debate Union, but also the way forensics is done today across the nation. While emphasizing the necessity for hard work in speech, he also encouraged the, at the time, uncommon ideas of freedom and humor in forensic speaking –qualitities that were revolutionary and have allowed for significantly more participation in debate from the general public. More notably though, Dr. Marsh worked tireless to completely redesign the flawed system of debate judging, in an attempt to make debate a more fair and informative experience for all. His innovations were the cause of a national skyrocket in debate participation.
Professor Marsh was a respectable, cheerful, courageous, and intelligent man. In addition to being a loving husband and father of six, he always found time for his students and his associates, his chief academic interest. Even after learning that he was incurably ill, he continued to perform his duties with scrupulous care, and when he was no longer able to walk, he refused to let a substitute instruct his students; rather he would be carried to class, by his loving students and taught from his bed. Professor Charles A. Marsh passed away on July 2, 1936. From the first students who competed for UCLA in 1919, the work that Professor Marsh devoted to the UCLA Speech and Debate team will never be forgotten. The effects of his actions have truly set the foundations for what the UCLA Speech and Debate team is today.