For Information and updates concerning COVID-19 click here

Click here for information specifically about Summer Programs for minors from the Youth Protection Program at the University of Texas

What the UTNIF means to me

A message from Program Coordinator, Eric Lanning

Program Coordinator, Eric Lanning

Eric Lanning is currently the Program Coordinator for the University of Texas National Institute in Forensics, where he also helps to coach the speech and debate teams. Prior to joining the University of Texas, Eric lived and worked in China for 3 years as the Academic Director of speech and debate for the National Speech and Debate Association of China. Before moving to China, Eric spent 15+ years at the top levels of competitive policy debate. As a competitor in college, Eric’s accomplishments include winning the National Debate Tournament (2010), winning the Kentucky Tournament (2010) and the prestigious Kentucky Round Robin (2011) as well as being the Top Speaker at both. In 3 appearances at the NDT, 2 of them as a First Round at Large Bid (Top 16) Eric advanced to the elimination rounds as the 2nd seed twice (2010, 2015), advancing to the Octofinals (2009) and Quarterfinals (2015) as well as being the 2nd ranked speaker (2010). In addition to his own competitive success, Eric has worked with some of the most successful high school debaters and programs of the last decade as a coach. These accolades include winning the prestigious Baker Award for season long excellence, Back to Back National Championships at the Tournament of Champions, as well as the Winner and Top Speaker at nearly every major National Tournament, including Greenhill, St. Marks, the Glenbrooks, the Barkley Forum, the Montgomery Bell Academy, and Harvard. Eric is originally from Houston, Texas and attended both Michigan State University and the University of Houston, where he graduated with a degree in political science.

Institute Director, Randy Cox

Randy Cox is the Director of Texas Speech and one of the founders of the UT National Institute in Forensics. A Distinguished Service Award recipient for the American Forensic Association NIET and former national champion himself, his students have been graced with 73 individual national titles at both the high school and collegiate levels, and have also been awarded national team titles including the NFL/NSDA Bruno E. Jacob cumulative trophy, the NFA Founders Award, the NCFL Masterson and Founders awards, as well as six American Forensic Association NIET team titles, the most recent in 2018. As a former high school coach at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, his students appeared in NFL & NCFL national final rounds 22 times over a five year term, winning three national titles. He has been awarded both the prestigious University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award (2013) and the Moody College of Communication Teaching Excellence Award (2013). He has been a part of every UTNIF summer since the institute began in 1994, having founded the Lincoln-Douglas Debate program and taught in every curriculum division of the individual events camp.

Institute Director, Brendon Bankey

Brendon is the Director of Debate and co-Director of the UTNIF. He currently teaches Argumentation & Advocacy at the University of Texas at Austin as an Assistant Professor of Instruction in Communication Studies. Brendon is excited to bring his experience to his second summer at the UTNIF. He co-coached the #1 ranked team in the nation and champions of the 2018 National Debate Tournament as a graduate assistant debate coach at the University of Kansas. Brendon received his Master’s Degree and served as a graduate assistant debate coach at Wake Forest University. Throughout his career, Brendon has been actively involved in high school debate. He was an assistant coach at Pace Academy for five years. Some of Pace’s accomplishments during that span include winning the 2015 National Debate Coaches Association Tournament; winning the Glenbrooks, Michigan, and MBA; and receiving the top speaker award at St. Marks. Prior to working for Pace, Brendon spent four seasons working with Whitney Young, which culminated in an elimination debate appearance at the Tournament of Champions. Several of Brendon’s former summer debate workshops have gone on to debate in college at competitive programs throughout the United States. These students have attended schools such as the University of Kansas, Baylor University, Indiana University, Liberty University, and the University of Southern California.

Rikki Bleiweiss, Technical Support Liaison & Compliance Officer

Rikki grew up in Houston, Texas, next to a closet of servers, and learned how to do basic coding at an extraordinarily young age. She grew up building small websites, but soon joined her high school debate team and developed a passion for historical and legal research. Then, in college, she abandoned all of that to become an artist, naturally.

While pursuing her degree in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas, Rikki wrote and produced a full season of a television show for her college station, created a dog-petting-simulator video game, and wrote and directed countless short films. She also still competed on the UT debate team, and has a few national accolades to her name.

This summer, Rikki will be assisting the UTNIF in technical support and compliance with the University of Texas Youth Protection Program.

Safety and Compliance with the Youth Protection Program (YPP)

As we transition to distance learning, we believe it is possible to utilize the online learning resources at the University of Texas and best practices of online speech and debate institutions to create a safe and feasible alternative to in person instruction during summer 2020. 

The methods of instruction (pre-recorded lectures and documents on UTBox, video conferences, online classrooms and Canvas online platforms) make it possible for our staff and students to interact in ways that are appropriate and compliant with the Youth Protection Program. 

One of the key features of these platforms (both synchronous and asynchronous) is that they allow for us to maintain a 1 to 8 ratio of instructors to students, as well as guarantee that all instruction is public and that any and all private communication between students and instructors takes place only through the platform and with appropriate supervision from other instructional staff, administrators and the Youth Protection Program. 

These platforms, specifically (1) UTBox, (2) Zoom and (3) Canvas are proven and reliable distance learning resources that have accountability, transparency and safety features that with appropriate program design can meet or exceed the high standards for safety and professionalism already in place for in-person instruction on campus through the Youth Protection Program.

Updates to our Code of Conduct & Operating Procedures

The following are important updates to the UTNIF Code of Conduct and operating procedures in light of the transition to distance learning measures. These examples and this list are not comprehensive, and students and parents will receive final versions of all relevant documents from the UTNIF and YPP as soon as possible.

Pre-Clearance All lectures will be pre-screened by the Division Director and Administrative Program Coordinator to ensure compliance with rules about age-appropriate content and professional behavior for staff as required by the Youth Protection Program.

Monitoring and Recording All classroom activities (both synchronous through Zoom and asynchronous through Canvas) can and will be monitored in real time and recorded and audited to maintain quality, safety and transparency.

Official Channels All communication between participants and staff can and must occur through official platforms and existing YPP rules concerning social media use and private communication should be reinforced. Any communication between students and instructors outside of UTBox, Zoom or Canvas is prohibited. If instructors must communicate directly with students via text or phone, there are tools available to facilitate this contact without disclosing phone numbers or other personal contact information.

Authorized Access No unauthorized access to electronic resources (UTBox, Zoom, Canvas) for students or staff.

Zero Tolerance No tolerance for cyberbullying, harassment or discrimination of any kind.

Comprehensive Training While there are other protocols and procedures to consider – the most important safety measure is clear guidance effective training for students and staff to ensure their understanding of and compliance with the UTNIF Online Code of Conduct. To this end, all UTNIF participants will be appropriately trained to understand the importance of following these rules as well as the consequences for non-compliance during our temporary transition to distance learning. 

Administrative oversight and compliance officers While proper training is essential, other measures to ensure compliance are necessary including a comprehensive strategy to detect violations, appropriately investigate concerns or complaints and enforce consequences if relevant. 

To this end we are creating a new, formal position at the UTNIF Online to assist the program in compliance with these and other new rules and regulations for distance learning. The plan is to use experienced administrative staff (Dorm Director, RAs, etc.) given their experience with the University of Texas, UTNIF and Youth Protection Program. We believe that this structure would preserve, and in some places enhance the oversight we have of students and staff as well as create a transparent system where there is 100% supervision (either live or recorded) of any and every student and staff interaction.