When Al Gore and George W. Bush arrive at Wake Forest University for their Oct. 11 debate in Wait Chapel, they will find a campus inspired by its role in the presidential election process.
From the red, white and blue banners at campus entrances to the hundreds of volunteers helping to prepare for the debate, Wake Forest is ready to welcome the candidates. Faculty and students are busy with classes and public events focused on presidential campaigns and debates. Internet projects are under way to encourage young people’s interest in those political activities.
“Our preparations for the debate have sparked creativity throughout the university community,” said Wake Forest President Thomas K. Hearn Jr. “Since learning of our selection as a debate site last January, students, faculty and staff have been exploring how to make the most of this extraordinary educational opportunity.”
Wake Forest’s early selection has contributed to the university’s ability to benefit fully from the experience, Hearn added.
Wake Forest first hosted a presidential debate on Sept. 25, 1988, when George Bush and Michael Dukakis met in Wait Chapel. It marked the first presidential debate produced by the Commission on Presidential Debates, which has produced all of them since that time.
Wake Forest’s experience with hosting the 1988 debate has proved helpful in preparing for this event, said Sandra Boyette, Wake Forest’s vice president for university advancement.
“There are a number of university staff and faculty who were here in 1988. That has definitely been an advantage.”
There are also familiar names among the sponsors for the Wake Forest debate. Wachovia Corporation and US Airways are sponsors for this year’s debate, just as they were in 1988.
Wake Forest has named Enterasys Networks as the lead sponsor for the upcoming debate. Other sponsors include BellSouth, Duke Energy, Idealliance, the Winston-Salem Journal and TITAN Technology Partners. Also sponsoring the debate are Mr. and Mrs. Charles D. Peebler Jr. of New York, N.Y., members of Wake Forest’s Parents’ Council.
Wake Forest, which launched a comprehensive technology initiative in the mid-1990s, was chosen as a debate site in part because of its reputation as a liberal arts institution with extraordinary expertise in the use of technology in teaching. Wake Forest has been applying technology in various ways to stimulate interest in the debate among young people.
Several online projects are under way, including one involving Advanced Placement high school students from across the country and another that encourages the participation of young voters in online discussions of campaign issues. The university has created a debate Web site, http://debate.wfu.edu, to provide regularly updated information about the debate.
Professors are teaching courses built around presidential debates and campaigns, including “Great Teachers: Presidential Debates,” taught by associate professor of communication Allan Louden; “Debates and Campaigns,” taught by political science professor Kathy Smith; and a freshman seminar, “Ways of Thinking About Presidential Campaigns,” taught by economics professor David G. Brown.
Reaching beyond the classroom, Wake Forest students and faculty have organized several public events. Panel discussions with visiting experts on presidential debates, a presidential election symposium hosted by Wake Forest’s law school and a mock debate presented by Wake Forest’s debate team are among them.
In addition to their involvement in debate-related classes, public events and technology inititiatives, many students will get an insider’s view of staging a presidential debate by working as volunteers with the university, the Commission on Presidential Debates and with the media in the days leading up the debate. Volunteers will be most involved from Oct. 6 through debate night.
On that night, students, alumni, faculty and staff will gather on the Magnolia Quad (beside Benson University Center) to watch a live broadcast of the debate on a giant screen.
“This is a great opportunity for students to come together with the rest of the community to watch the debate,” said Amanda Carlson, student government president. “It’s going to be very exciting to watch the event finally unfold on our campus after so much planning and study about campaigns.”
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