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Universities ready their campuses for debate season

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012

Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 13:05


Jory Heckman / SHFWire

   WASHINGTON - At the University of Denver—the site of the Oct. 3 presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney—Chancellor Robert Coombe said the campus has been a flurry of activity, but is ready to go.

“It’s been an incredible ride,” Coombe said, outlining the difficult process of accommodating more than 500 media outlets—nearly half of which are foreign press.

Coombe said the global attention has been great for the private university’s international student body of more than 1,500 students. For them, he said the debate has been a learning opportunity.

“They get to see American democracy happen right in front of them,” Coombe said.expect less of a boost from a positive performance.

“The risk factor is so high, not losing is sometimes more important than winning—and for Obama this year in particular,” Kathryn Olson, professor of communications at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said.

One of the panel members, Sander Vanocur, a former reporter for both ABC and NBC news, was one of the panelists who asked questions during the first presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. He is the last surviving participant from that debate. While the other panelists blamed the candidates for avoiding substantial answers to questions, Vanocur said it’s time to stop blaming politicians.

“Television tries to create the idea it’s clean, and politics is not. Politics is what we need more of,” Vanocur said, calling for civil discussion of the issues.

“Why should we tower ourselves above politicians? We’ve had enough of debasing of politics in this country. Let’s end it,” Vanocur said.

At Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Aaron Calvin, an entertainment editor at the Hofstra Chronicle, the student newspaper, said student media have been busy covering political events­­—such as speeches delivered by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and Cornel West, a prominent scholar of African American studies.

Calvin said outside media coverage has yet to make much of an impact on the campus, but security has been more wary.

“There hasn’t been a lot of activity on campus so far, but the campus police have been more active,” he said.

Calvin said the Chronicle staff will have credentials to be inside the David S. Mack Sports Complex, where the second presidential debate event will be staged, Oct. 16.

For Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., Joshua Glanzer, director of public relations, said the new performing arts center on campus was one of the most attractive aspects of its application to the Commission on Presidential Debates. Lynn University will host the last Presidential debate Oct. 22.

After hosting the 2010 congressional debate between Republican candidate Allen West and Democrat Ron Klein, Glanzer said administrators sought more high-profile political events.

“They knew they wanted to repeat that as much as possible,” Glanzer said, explaining the college’s bid for this presidential race.

However, Glanzer said overhauling the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center has also been one of the most challenging tasks.

“You basically have to turn it from a theatrical stage to a television studio,” Glanzer said.

The conversion process involves a change in stage lights, scaffolding to accommodate the TV networks and removing seats for press pool cameras.

Jory Heckman is a print journalism and political science major at Hofstra Universty. He is currently interning at Scripps Howard Foundation’s Semester in Washington program. He may be reached at

Coombe said the university’s selection for the debate likely reflects Colorado’s status as a swing state.

“This isn’t something that there is a great financial reward to,” Coombe said. “But it’s the sort of thing that a great university ought to do.”

For the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11, Michael Strysick, director of communications at Centre College in Danville, Ky., said the campus is looking forward to rehosting this event. In 2000, Centre, which has 1,340 students, hosted the vice presidential debate between Joseph Lieberman and Dick Cheney.

“The media interest on this debate is profound,” Strysick said, noting that news outlets from 20 countries will descend on the town of just over 16,000 residents. “We used to think of this as a big national event, but now it’s an international event,” Strysick said.

In preparing the auditorium, Strysick said one of the most formidable challenges has been providing technology to the press. He said Centre has created a new Internet network exclusively for the debate and has verified it as “crash-proof.” It held a “break the network” event when  students were invited en masse to connect their laptops and smartphones to the network to test its stability.

According to a panel of journalists and media professionals who spoke Monday at the Newseum in Washington, Obama will risk more during his debates with Romney and should

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