‘U’ to host presidential debate in fall 2020

Friday, October 11, 2019 - 1:26pm

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Kelsey Pease/Daily

The University of Michigan will host a presidential debate in fall 2020, University President Mark Schlissel announced Friday morning. 

In the press release, Schlissel said the University has prioritized public service and civic engagement in its educational mission.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for the university community to contribute to our democracy, while setting an example of civic engagement and shining a light on the outstanding academic strengths of our institution,” Schlissel said. “Public service and civic engagement are at the core of our great university and its history.”

The debate will be held at the Crisler Center on Oct. 15, 2020. Schlissel said the University will schedule programming related to the debate in classes and across campus. 

“For generations, the University of Michigan has led the way in advancing understanding of our nation’s most pressing issues — and next year our students, faculty and staff will have a novel opportunity to enhance this essential quality of our mission at the national level,” Schlissel said.

In a statement, Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, who represents Ann Arbor, said the choice to host the debate in Ann Arbor will put Michigan at the forefront of the 2020 election.

"This election will be the most important of a generation,” Dingell said. “It is important that we listen to all sides. Democracy relies on vigorous debate and freedom of speech. The University of Michigan is driven by a fundamental belief in the need for open dialogue in the democratic process so its students, the citizens of the State of Michigan, and the citizens across the world engage with and participate in the electoral process.” 

Former President Gerald R. Ford is a University alum, and the Ford School of Public Policy, which is helping lead the University’s debate initiative, is named after him. Dingell said the University was perfectly placed to host the debate.

“As one of our nation’s premier public institutions, the University of Michigan is uniquely situated to host a debate experience of the highest caliber at this critical moment in our nation’s history,” Dingell said.

There will be a limited number of seats in the arena, and tickets will be handled by the Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan nonprofit group that is partnering with the University to hold the debate.

To manage the logistics of the event, the University has established a steering committee appointed by the provost, along with a debate core team made up of 30 representatives, including faculty members, students and staff to develop campus programming.

In an April letter to the CPD, Schlissel said the University was up to the challenge of hosting the debate given its regular handling of 110,000 visitors to home football games. Schlissel also noted that there is a $2.5 million fee for hosting a presidential debate, a tally that does not include additional expenses for facility use and other needs. The University expects “donor support” to underwrite the expenses associated with the debate. No general fund dollars will go toward covering costs, meaning no taxpayer support or tuition dollars will be used to pay for the event.

In an interview with The Daily, Mayor Christopher Taylor agreed that Ann Arbor’s history of hosting large scale events likely benefited the University’s application.

“We accommodate larger events on a regular basis,” Taylor said. “... There’ll be of course a lot of focus on the presidential debate here, we will have the Republican nominee here, the Democratic nominee here, there will be media from all over the world. We’re going to need to be prepared for it, and we will be.”

The debate will be the second of three presidential debates scheduled during the general election, taking place a few weeks before election day.

Taylor said the choice to host the debate at the University reflected the state’s prominence in the upcoming election cycle.

“It’s a ratification of the importance of Michigan in the 2020 presidential election, and it’s a ratification of the importance of the youth vote in the election,” Taylor said. “I think it’s critically important that students at the University of Michigan participate in this election, and that they vote… We want to make sure students have the ability to have that right, and we’re going to do everything we can to do that.”

LSA senior Maria Muzaurieta, president of the University’s Chapter of the College Republicans, said she was glad to see the presidential debate come to Ann Arbor.

“We are beyond excited to host the second general presidential debate,” Muzaurieta said. “We look forward to meaningful and fair questions that give both candidates a chance to make their case to the American people. We hope the campus community will remain committed to fostering open dialogue across the political spectrum.”

In a press release, College Democrats Chair Ruby Schneider, an LSA senior, and Communications Director Camille Mancuso, a Public Policy junior, said they were looking forward to the opportunity to engage in the democratic process on campus. The two said the College Democrats planned to use the event to mobilize students and encourage voter turnout. 

“The Debate will bring a unique opportunity to engage new people in the political process,” Schneider and Mancuso wrote. “By hosting a debate on our campus, we hope to showcase to the nation the best parts of our community. The Debate will bring politics alive and elevate student perspectives on a national platform.”

Given the heightened activity expected to surround the debate, the University’s Division of Public Safety & Security will work in coordination with various levels of law enforcement, including local, regional, state and federal agencies.

Taylor said the Ann Arbor Police Department would pitch in as well.

“The bottom line is that the University is driving the bus,” Taylor said. “We’ve had presidents come before. We work with the Secret Service, FBI, the University, state police and everybody else that has an interest in making sure that they come to Ann Arbor, that they are safe when they’re here and everyone else attending an event such as this is safe.”

Taylor noted that the event would likely attract protestors.

“A debate of this nature will, of course, garner attention from all over the world,” Taylor said. “I expect there to be people exercising their First Amendment rights on all sides, and the Ann Arbor Police Department is going to play a role in making sure that everybody’s rights are protected and that everybody is safe.”

Schneider and Mancuso acknowledged that the debate could be a stressful endeavor for the campus and the city.

“However, we recognize the strain this event will put on members of our community,” Schneider and Mancuso wrote. “We will put students’ physical, mental and emotional safety at the center of everything we do regarding this debate. Politics are not only contentions, they are personal — and have the potential to be very harmful. While we value civility in the Democratic process, we also need to keep our values in mind, and stand firm in the knowledge that white supremacy and other forms of discrimination and violence have no place on our campus.”