With lessons from past, debate plans underway

Puneet Kollipara
Student Life Archives

After being selected to host the only vice presidential debate of the 2008 election cycle, Washington University continues to prepare the campus for the event in October.

According to Rob Wild, assistant to the chancellor, the University has been preparing for the debate since the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) announced that the University would be the host last November.

Wild, who is also the chair of a committee of nearly 50 campus leaders responsible for planning the debate, said that the University has made significant progress in preparing for the debate.

“We still have a lot of work to do before October 2, but much has been accomplished during the past five months,” he said.

The committee, known as the Vice Presidential Debate Steering Committee, is vice-chaired by Associate Vice Chancellor Steven Givens and includes representatives from the Washington University Police Department, the Career Center, public affairs, facilities, campus life and athletic departments.

Givens also chaired the presidential debate steering committees for the 2000 and 2004 presidential debates at the University and draws on that experience to provide assistance and advice.

“A big part of my role is knowing the history and having been through this before. So I’m there to help Rob Wild with the planning,” Givens said.

Members of the committee have met with the CPD twice, once in St. Louis and once in Washington, D.C., to discuss security, parking, accommodations for the media and the configuration of the Field House, the location of this debate and all previous debates held at the University.

“Many of the leaders of the CPD have worked with us on previous debates, so they know us and our campus very well,” Wild said. “We have an excellent working relationship.”

Givens, who is also responsible for providing arrangements and spaces for the media’s use during the debate, said that a significant portion of space in the Athletic Complex (AC) would be allocated to the press to give it ample space to communicate the debate’s events to the public.

“The biggest chunk of space in the Athletic Complex is given over to the media because that’s what this thing is all about,” Givens said. “If the media didn’t come and cover this, no one would care about it.”

The recreational gym, as in past debates, will serve as the primary media center. The University will provide TV screens and tables in the gym for journalists to watch the debate and write their stories.

The front end of the recreational gym will be the site of “spin alley,” where campaign officials address the media to make their case for why their candidate won the debate.

Also throughout the AC will be individual workspaces for television outlets’ use, and the University will provide a certain amount of space for technical and broadcast crews as well. Television networks will also broadcast live from various locations on campus during the days surrounding the debate.

The role of the media at the debate extends far beyond its coverage of the event, according to Givens.

“The University works really hard to work with the media while they’re here and build relationships with them and that has helped us over the years to do the other work that we do here, even when there’s not a debate happening,” he said. “We build relationships with the media, and that helps to place other stories of the University in the media. It’s a great time for us to get to know the decision-makers that work for major news organizations.”

Wild said that the University’s student athletes and athletics staff, headed by Director of Athletics John Schael, have had to make sacrifices in the past to facilitate the University’s debates.

“Mr. Schael’s staff and all of our fall student athletes make great sacrifices during this disruption to their fall seasons so that the debate can take place,” Wild said. “I am grateful for their support.”

Givens said that student athletes would again need to make sacrifices for this year’s debates. Due to security restrictions in the week before the debate, many teams may have to relocate their practices, and the University may need to reschedule some games that normally occur in the AC.

Chief of Police Don Strom has worked with local and federal law enforcement agencies to plan security measures for the debate. Strom could not be reached for comment.

Wild also assured that the buildings currently under construction on the Danforth Campus-Village East, Harry and Susan Seigle Hall and the Danforth University Center-would be completed over the summer to avoid impacting the University’s hosting of the debate.

This is the fifth consecutive presidential election cycle in which the CPD has selected the University to host a debate, more times than any other institution of higher learning. The University held presidential debates in 1992, 2000 and 2004.

The University was also selected to host a presidential debate in 1996, but the debate was canceled due to scheduling difficulties between the two major candidates, former President Bill Clinton and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole.

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