Wake Forest preparing for presidential debate

Wake Forest Presidential Debate logoSince announcing that it will host a presidential debate, Wake Forest University has been busy with numerous preliminary preparations, ranging from making plans for registering volunteers to developing classes and events to complement the debate.

The university has also created an official logo for the debate.

“The debate is six months away, but we know from experience that extensive planning is required early,” said Wake Forest President Thomas K. Hearn Jr. “We’re grateful to everyone in the university and surrounding community for their thoughtful, enthusiastic participation in the preparations.”

The work began shortly after Hearn announced last January that the Commission on Presidential Debates had selected Wake Forest’s Wait Chapel as the site for an Oct. 11 debate. The commission had approved a proposal submitted by the university and the Winston-Salem Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB).

This marks the second time that the commission has selected Wake Forest to host a debate. Presidential candidates George Bush and Michael Dukakis squared off in Wait Chapel in 1988 in front of an estimated 65 million U.S. television viewers.

“One of the first issues we are addressing is how to recruit and assign volunteers to assist with the debate,” said Paige Wilbanks, Wake Forest’s associate director of student development. “Volunteers will be important to everyone directly involved in the event, including the university, the convention and visitors bureau, the debate commission and the media.”

The university has just established a new online system for students, faculty and staff to register as prospective volunteers for campus activities associated with the debate. Prospective volunteers can indicate the sort of activities in which they would prefer to participate, as well as the times when they would be available. To register, they should visit the university’s official debate page at www.wfu.edu/debate.

The office of Winston-Salem Mayor Jack Cavanagh Jr. will coordinate a separate process for registering prospective volunteers from the off-campus community, according to Stephan Dragisic of the Winston-Salem CVB.

“We look forward to being an integral part of this historic event,” Cavanagh said. “We encourage prospective volunteers to contact us about volunteer opportunities and to submit an application in the next few months.”

The university is also making preliminary plans for distributing tickets to the debate, if tickets become available. At this point, university officials do not know if any tickets will be available for distribution to students, faculty and staff. The Commission on Presidential Debates controls the distribution of tickets to all groups associated with the debate, including the news media and political parties.

If the commission provides tickets to the university for distribution, the number is expected to be small, according to Claudia Kairoff, associate dean of Wake Forest’s undergraduate College. A preliminary plan calls for students, faculty and staff to participate in a lottery in the fall, as occurred with the 1988 debate. More details regarding the potential lottery will be announced next fall, she said.

Kairoff said the debate is inspiring a number of classes and special events on campus.

“It is clear that faculty are taking advantage of this opportunity to bring the debate into the classroom, in a sense,” said Kairoff, who is compiling a long list of debate-influenced academic activities.

Allan Louden, associate professor of communication, plans to bring a panel of authors on books about presidential debates into his class, “Great Teachers: Presidential Debates.” The writers may actually watch the debate with his students.

The politics department is planning a forum on public issues for students shortly before the debate. A total of 12 panel discussions will address issues of national and international concern for presidential candidates.

The university’s School of Law is making plans, too. Two days before the debate, a discussion will be held on several topics, including campaign finance.

The list of debate-influenced classes and debates is expected to grow substantially, Kairoff said.

“Our plan is to make certain that our students benefit in a number of ways from the debate in and out of the classroom,” Kairoff said.

Some students are already involved in exploring ways to use the Internet with the debate. The debate commission has indicated that the Internet will play a key role in its efforts to generate greater interest among young people in the fall’s three presidential debates and one vice presidential debate. The university has pulled together approximately 20 students to look at the Internet’s possibilities in the debate at Wake Forest. The group will submit a proposal to the commission this spring.

Wake Forest’s national reputation for technology use in education played a role in its selection as a debate site, according to the commission.

The university has also created an official debate logo that has been approved by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Available in color and black-and-white versions, the official logo features an American flag-draped Wait Chapel set inside a circle. Written inside the circle’s edges are Presidential Debate, Wake Forest University and Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The logo can be downloaded from the university’s debate page at www.wfu.edu/debate. Organizations, companies and others with questions regarding the potential usage of the logo may call the University Editor’s Office at Wake Forest at 336-758-5379.

One of the top priorities of debate organizers is to keep local officials well informed on preparations, according to Sandra Boyette, vice president for university advancement. The university has already established a large debate planning committee comprised of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County representatives, as well as individuals from various organizations. Stephan Dragisic is community chair of the committee.

The group met early this year to hear presentations by university and CVB officials and make arrangements to meet periodically to remain informed of progress in preparations.

“It is going to take the support of our entire community to stage the debate,” Boyette said. “That support was there 12 years ago, and we have found the enthusiasm is there again this time.”

Downloadable, print-quality images of the new logo are available in several formats at www.wfu.edu/debate/pd-logos.html.

Categories: Media Advisory, University Announcement