Image is everything…

The first Presidential Debate, set to begin tonight at 9 p.m., will put the University of Miami in a global spotlight. With an anticipated 50 million viewers worldwide, it is safe to say that few will be unfamiliar with the palm trees and fountains we recognize as UM.

All of the media attention coming to UM because of the Debate is expected to have a significant impact on the University’s image.

“It’s not so much that it will change UM’s image, but that it will enhance our image,” said Jerry Lewis, vice president for Communications. “The most important thing the debate does is that it signals to the world that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

According to a recent article in The Miami Herald, UM wasn’t the only one looking to enhance its image through its involvement with the Debate. The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians sponsored the Debate with a $1 million donation, seeking to make itself a bigger force in politics and philanthropy.

Today, over 2500 members of the media are on campus, reporting for the top networks and newspapers throughout the world. This will cause a surge of publicity for the University.

“Every front page of every newspaper will include the University of Miami’s name the morning after the debate,” Lewis said. “In advertising terms, it’s the ultimate product placement.”

The media coverage will also showcase a new side of UM, beyond being a private research university, by spotlighting the Coral Gables campus and the undergraduate student body.

“Many people are familiar with us because of our medical school,” Lewis said. “And, of course, our Miami Hurricanes football team is legendary.”

Despite the increase in attention, noticeable changes in the University’s image may be slow.

“I don’t think it’s possible to make drastic changes to our image overnight,” Lewis said. “But we have made some bold, dramatic steps in a relatively short period of time.”

According to Lewis, the University’s image has changed tremendously since Donna Shalala took over as president in 2001.

“During just a few short years, we have launched a billion dollar campaign, significantly increased our academic standing, jumped up in the national rankings, and joined the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference,” Lewis said.

So how do outsiders view the University?

“Some probably view us as an upstart, and in many ways we are. We’re relatively young as universities go,” Lewis said. “But we’re aggressive, we’re enthusiastic, and we mean serious business. When you have the confidence and stability that come with academic prowess, anything is possible.”

Leigha Taber can be contacted at