Washington University not to enter bid for 2020 presidential debate
Washington University will not apply to host a 2020 presidential debate.
Since 1992, the University has hosted five debates, more than any other institution. Except for 1996 and 2012, the University has hosted either a presidential or vice-presidential debate in every election cycle.Chancellor-elect Andrew Martin announced that the University would not to apply in a letter to the Commission on Presidential Debates last week. In the letter, Martin cited his leadership transition in the 2019-2020 school year as a key reason as to why the University opted not to apply.
Martin said that the costs of hosting the debate outweighed the benefits. He said the estimated minimum cost of hosting a debate was $7 million.
“Ultimately, we concluded that the cost was just too great and that those resources could be better deployed in other ways,” Martin said.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Lori White recently sought feedback from students asking whether the University should put in a bid for the debate. White said she talked to students who were on campus for the 2016 debate about their opinions on the campus atmosphere at the time.
“They loved the excitement around the debate because it felt like college game day,” White said. “There was an opportunity for students to get involved and talk about politics on a deeper level, and students liked the pride that they felt by hosting an event of this magnitude. We want to think about ways that we can respond to all of the positive things students said they felt about the debate and how we can do that as a regular occurrence.”
Martin has reached out to University leadership to start thinking about events that would raise student engagement in similar ways.
“There’s a real desire for more programming on our campus to engage around issues of the day, to facilitate discussion among our campus community and beyond,” Martin said. “That’s something we’re working on and look forward to talking about towards the beginning of the next academic year.”
Sophomore Julia Greensfelder, president of the University’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, said she was disappointed by the news that the University would not be hosting a debate.
“I feel like this was indicative of a larger issue that Wash. U. makes decisions with no transparency or that are antithetical to what the students want,” Greensfelder said. “One of the reasons that I came to Wash. U. was because I wanted to go witness a debate; I wanted to be a part of that.”
Greensfelder also said she believes that hosting a debate would have been positive for Martin’s transition.
“I think it would [have been] a great way to introduce a new chancellor, to say ‘Look, Wash. U. is continuing this legacy of fostering productive debate on campus,’” Greensfelder said.
Associate Vice Chancellor and Chief of Staff for Chancellor Wrighton Steve Givens has served as the chair for the committee in charge of planning the debates since 2000. He said he believes that, while hosting debates was an exciting opportunity in the past, the decision not to host shouldn’t deter the University community from future political involvement.
“We can’t let not hosting a presidential debate dampen the enthusiasm of our entire community of making this next election vibrant and important and engaged,” Givens said. “That’s the most important thing we can do in a democracy, to remain engaged. Hosting a presidential debate, while it’s a wonderful thing, doesn’t take away our responsibility to further engage in democracy.”