Hosting one of the 2012 Presidential Debates is the most significant event in the history of Hofstra University. Not only does the debate generate the attention of possible Hofstra enrollees, but it also cements Hofstra’s place into United States history. With this debate, Hofstra will become just the second university in United States history to be chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates to host back-to-back presidential debates (2008 and 2012). The only other university to have done this is Washington University in St. Louis (2000 and 2004). This, of course, is a monumental achievement for Hofstra, but how much pressure has it placed on the University, those who work there, and its students?
In order to host a Presidential Debate, there is an innumerable amount of tasks that must be accomplished by a university. Each department, despite its usual focus, plays a part in making the debate a success. This ranges from public safety and video production, to everything in-between.
Some of the departments around Hofstra are feeling the pressure of hosting the debate more than others. Steed Alberti, Assistant Director of Event Management at Hofstra, noted that despite ample planning beforehand, things can change in the matter of minutes.
“I think any time you have a big high profile event there’s immense pressure,” said Alberti. “We’ve planned pretty well, but you never know what debate day is going to bring, you never know what somebody is going to need,” added Alberti.
Alberti noted that space constraints around Hofstra have been one of the obstacles that Event Management has had to overcome in its planning for events leading up to the debate. However, so far, the department has been able to get things accomplished.
“There is a lot of pressure to make things happen, but we’re fortunate to be working with the internal groups at Hofstra,” said Alberti. “I think we’re as prepared as we can be,” added Alberti.
Jayne E. Brownell, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, has also been feeling some of the pressure to succeed.
“It is certainly a lot of work, but it is work that we care about and want to do. Since our role in Student Affairs is to engage students in opportunities around campus, we are the natural group to take the lead for student Debate-related programs. And our collaboration with students and with other offices has been tremendous. Our student committee is dedicated, creative, and enthusiastic about this work,” said Brownell.
So far, getting students involved has been a success. Hofstra students are giving attention to debate events held at Hofstra in the weeks preceding the debate.
“I think that students heard what a great experience [the debate] was in 2008, so from January forward, I had a large group of students interested in getting involved,” said Brownell. “That involvement lasted all summer, and is in full force coming into the home stretch,” added Brownell.
While the work may be tough and the pressure immense, Brownell concluded by saying that it is worth every minute.
Other departments at Hofstra, such as Public Safety, seem more relaxed, or even Zen, in their preparation for the debate.
“I don’t feel that we’re under any additional pressure yet from the news media,” said John O’Malley, Associate Director of Public Safety Operations Department of Public Safety at Hofstra.
In preparing for the debate, Public Safety has had the opportunity to work with the Nassau County Police Department, the New York State Police and the United States Secret Service. However, O’Malley did note that planning for the 2012 debate has been a bit tougher than the one in 2008.
“It has actually been a lot harder to plan for [the 2012 debate] since there is a sitting president and not just two candidates,” said O’Malley. “There are a lot more restrictions and a lot more people who accompany a president opposed to a candidate,” added O’Malley.
While there have been plenty of security actions to prepare for, O’Malley noted that Public Safety has divided its department so that focus can be placed on both on-campus patrols and debate events in order to make sure that “nobody is ignored”.
After the conclusion of the debate, Public Safety will return to its normal schedule and function starting October 17th.
President Stuart Rabinowitz does not necessarily view the national pressure placed upon Hofstra as a negative feature. Instead, Rabinowitz believes it will give Hofstra a great opportunity to show off its best asset; “the student body”.
“[In 2008] there were 36,000 journalists who descended upon Hofstra in the time leading up to, and on the night of, the debate. These journalists were mainly showing off our students. Some wanted to interview me, but most just wanted to speak to the young people,” said President Rabinowitz.
President Rabinowitz believes this is because the issues at stake with the 2012 election affect more young people than an election has ever before in United States history. With topics like the stimulus, young people seem to be more interested in this election, and rightfully so. Depending on the outcome, graduating students have difficulty finding a job or, when the time comes, planning for retirement.
“I find that students are more interested, now. They’re not asking ‘cult of personality’ questions, they’re asking real policy questions” said President Rabinowitz.
President Rabinowitz also acknowledged that there most likely will be some complaints by students and/or staff members in the time leading up to the event due to some minor inconveniences, such as relocation of offices and classes for a short period of time. But, President Rabinowitz finds these complaints to be nothing more than minor.
“I’m sure there will be a little carping at the disruptions immediately prior to the debate, and we’re sorry about that” said Rabinowitz. “There is a price to pay, but it’s a very small price to pay for hosting one of the most significance events in our political life and history” added President Rabinowitz.
President Rabinowitz called Hofstra a place where “higher education and politics” meet. Naturally, President Rabinowitz was ecstatic when he received the call that the University had been chosen to host one of the 2012 debates. Hosting one of the 2012 Presidential Debates, undoubtedly, gives the University amble opportunity to show off both aspects of President Rabinowitz statement.
Originally published: The Hofstra Chronicle (October 11, 2012, Page A-2)