The University of Miami will play host to the first of the 2004 presidential debates. The historic event will bring President George W. Bush and Democratic Presidential Candidate John Kerry together at the Convocation Center on Sept. 30.
Students learned of the decision when President Donna E. Shalala revealed the news last November.
“We got the first one,” Shalala announced. “This is the result of a team effort that will benefit the entire community.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates [CPD] selected UM over 13 other applicants. According to Paul G. Kirk, Jr., commission co-chairman, UM was chosen because of the enthusiasm of its students, staff and administration, and because it met all of the logistic requirements set forth by the CPD. Location and diversity also played a key role.
Washington University and Arizona State were selected to host the second and third debates, respectively. Case Western Reserve University will host the vice presidential debate.
“This decision has shown that we’re not only on the map in terms of academics and athletics, but we’ve also been recognized as a university that promotes the democratic process,” Dr. Patricia Whitely, vice president for student affairs, said.
Since then, campus has become a hotbed for political activity. The President’s Lecture Series and Community Forums have brought the likes of renowned poet Maya Angelou and former Pulitzer Prize winner Howell Raines, as well as prominent local figures to campus. Many senators have made stops at UM during their political campaigns, and John Kerry held a rally on the Rock last April.
The excitement is only going to intensify as the debate nears. Thousands of media personnel are expected to come to campus, and students will be swept into the debate frenzy upon arrival this August.
Top political strategists James Carville and Mary Matalin will speak at freshmen orientation. The political cartoons of award-winning artists Chan Lowe and Jim Morin
will be on display at the Lowe Art Museum until October, and Tintypes, a patriotic salute to America, will be playing at the Ring Theatre. Other events include a presentation on music in the White House and a presidential image exhibition. The Dalai Lama will visit UM in the days leading up to the debate.
A series of events will be held the week of the debate, culminating in a DebateWatch party the night of Sept. 30. The University community will have the opportunity to watch the debate at different campus pavilions with large-screen televisions. These watches will place viewers close to the live debate action at the Convocation Center and provide a venue for interactive programs and discussions.
The debate will affect all aspects of UM life, everything from classes to parking. What can students expect as the debate comes closer?
Richard Walker, assistant vice president for student affairs, says that administration is going to try to keep things as normal as possible. They plan to keep open communication and daily contact with students to keep them abreast of all developments.
“All of those details are being worked out right now,” Walker said. “There is a comprehensive plan that will be rolled out when the students return in August.”
During the spring 2004 semester, almost 400 students applied to become volunteers for the debate events. This fall, incoming freshmen will get the opportunity to become volunteers as well.
“Students will be used heavily, working with the media and events going on with the debate,” Walker said.
However, students who wish to attend the debate in the Convocation Center are still in suspense; according to Walker, the decision has not yet been made as to how tickets are going to be distributed for the debate.
Shalala said she is looking forward to the presidential debate and that students will be sharing in the excitement.
“Everyone will be watching this on television live from UM,” Shalala said. “A piece of history will be held right here on the UM campus.”
For more information on the first 2004 Presidential Debate, visit www.miami.edu/debate04. I
Jorge Arauz contributed to this article.