U-M Debate Program receives record $1 million gift


The University of Michigan Debate Program has received a $1 million gift from a former standout debate participant and his wife.

The endowed fund created by Lee Hess and Irene Joyce Levine is the largest gift in the program’s 120-year history and will also name the director’s title the Lee H. Hess Director of Debate.

“Lee’s generosity to the U-M Debate program has supported the development and expansion of the program and the success of our team over time,” said Laura Blake Jones, associate vice president and dean of students.

“This latest gift ensures the ongoing future of the program by institutionalizing funding for the director position and creating sustainable opportunities for future generations of Michigan debaters. We are enormously grateful for this generous and transformative gift.”

Aaron Kall, the Lee H. Hess Director of Debate, said he’s known Hess for more than a decade and greatly appreciates the gift.

“Lee’s generous gift will certainly be transformative for the debate team in the coming years,” Kall said. “There is no doubt that continued support from our wonderful alums has been integral to our recent competitive success.”

Hess graduated from U-M in 1968 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He also has a master’s degree in communications from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

He was formerly the chair and co-founder of Installs Inc. LLC and is currently the chairman of Cairngorm Capital Partners LLP, a private equity investment firm based in London.

“As a former participant in the Michigan Debate Program, I am grateful for the skills and experiences I gained from it,” Hess said. “The program’s emphasis on critical thinking, research methodologies and public speaking have been invaluable in my professional journey and have contributed to my success, making this gift possible.”

Michigan’s Debate Team, which began in 1903, is one of the oldest debate programs in the United States. The program has been the National Debate Tournament runner-up six times: 1989, 1991, 2014, 2015, 2021 and 2022. It also made it to the Final Four of the NDT eight other times: 1988, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2008, 2011, 2016 and 2018.


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