As UM President Donna E. Shalala revealed in an interview with The Hurricane, she has gotten presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to agree to speak on campus during her campaign. This should come as no surprise, given Shalala’s tenure as Secretary of Health & Human Services under President Clinton-but what may come as a shock is the fact she wants all the presidential candidates to speak on campus as well. And it’s not just Democrats: Shalala has also approached Republican candidates as well.
This is incredibly ambitious on her part, and we’re glad she’s attempting it; more candidates mean more exposure, and not the type of exposure you get from football brawls, either. Having more candidates speak on campus will bring us a level of exposure that falls just short of the 2004 Presidential Debate, which will help us re-boost our image as an academically reputable institution, which we seem to be losing.
Once again, Shalala’s connections have come through, just as they did for the Presidential Debate, as well as so many speakers who have come in the past (such as Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie, the Dalai Lama) and are due to come in the future (Al Gore). Besides bringing the image boost that is so beneficial to this institution, these speakers provide just as big an opportunity for the students who go see them. These speakers have seen and experienced a lot, and have knowledge and wisdom to bestow upon the students. And if anything, it gives us bragging rights, and a good story to tell the grandkids.
Especially with the candidates, the students will have even bigger opportunities to engage the speakers, as the more politically-natured student organizations will have the opportunity to sponsor individual candidates. Shalala hopes to encourage more students to register to vote and become more involved in the political process, which would be another beneficial side effect of having candidates speak to our school.
Fact of the matter is, the many distinguished speakers who come visit us contribute to our prestige much more than a new University Center or greenhouse will. While athletics may be our claim to fame, for better or worse, it is the speakers that help us be taken more seriously, and help raise the value of a UM degree. If several presidential candidates visit our campus, especially during an election year, it’ll provide an even bigger boost. Let’s hope Stephen Colbert will follow them down here, so the circle can be complete.