A new semester wasn’t the only thing Hofstra University students were looking forward to this fall. For two consecutive presidential election years, the Commission on Presidential Debates has tapped the university to host a presidential debate. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, the Long Island institution will hold the second 2012 Presidential Debate between President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney. Students not only get front row seats — they get all the seats at the nationally televised event.
As it did for the October 2008 debate, the university has built an academic program around the event.
“Our goal is to make sure this experience touches as many students as possible – whether it’s by attendance at a lecture, panel discussion, or other program, watching news organizations from around the world broadcast from our campus, or volunteering for the debate itself,” said Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz.
To prepare students, special fall courses focus on the history, political science, current affairs and even math equations that are relevant in the current election cycle. Examples of classes and seminars include “Class Warfare and the 2012 Elections,” “American Power in Global Perspective,” “Why Can You Vote and APPLE, Inc. Can’t,” and “I’m Voting For God: Religion and the 2012 Presidential Election.”
The reasons behind the commission picking Hofstra for a second time in a row have nothing to do with magic or luck, according to Rabinowitz.
“They picked us again because my guess is they want to have at least one debate that they feel is in the hands of someone who is experienced at it, who did it well, and we did it well,” he said.
Instead of following the format as in 2008 when the debate centered on the economy and domestic policy, this presidential debate will be in a town hall meeting format. Of greater historic significance is the fact that for the first time in 20 years, the debate will be moderated by a female, Candy Crowley, CNN’s chief political correspondent and host of its Sunday morning program, “State of the Union.” Before Crowley was named moderator in mid-August, three high schoolers from Montclair, N.J., had created a national stir with their petition to include a woman among the moderators.
Regarding the town hall style debate, Dr. Meena Bose, the Peter S. Kalikow Chair in Presidential Studies at Hofstra University, said, “This type of format is very exciting because questions are designed by the viewers, not by a moderator. It is important to see what matters to the public.”
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For the majority of the students at the university, this will be the first presidential election in which they will be able to vote. Every single ticket the Commission of Presidential Debates has allocated to the university has been put into a lottery for students only. Ensuring that his students witness the debate is so important to Rabinowitz that he’s even given up his own seat in the audience. After he makes introductory remarks, he’ll watch the remainder of the debate from a remote television screen backstage.
“The most important reason we do this is because we think that we have an obligations to teach or at least be role models for our students so that they will be active participants in the democratic process,” he said.
It isn’t only the Hofstra students who gain from this event. Having a presidential debate provides a public relations opportunity as well as free advertising that is very useful to the university and also the surrounding town of Hempstead. In 2008, on the day of the debate, the university was the 12th most frequent Google search and it enjoyed the equivalent of about 30 million dollars of free advertising, according to Rabinowitz.
This year, the Town of Hempstead is looking forward to the same experiences as in 2008, “a spirit of intellectual curiosity, high degree of enthusiasm from Hofstra students and local residents,” and of course, enhanced economic activity for local business, according to Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray.
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Christina Mulligan, a 2012 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, interned at MetroFocus this summer.