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The Presidential Debate Academic Advisory Committee, a new faculty committee, will create a “Democracy and Debate” themed academic semester for Fall 2020 ahead of the 2020 presidential debate

The committee plans to incorporate various debate-centered academic events in all 19 schools and colleges throughout the University in order to make students  more civically engaged. Additionally, the committee is encouraging each school and college within the University to host discussions, lecture series and other programs centered around the debate and civically engaging topics. 

Angela Dillard, the committee chair and a professor of Afroamerican and African studies, spoke to The Daily about the goals and plans of the committee and the 2020 semester.

“Ideally, the theme semester offerings will highlight the U-M disciplinary and interdisciplinary strengths,” Dillard said. “The theme semester also provides a forum for exploration and discussion of a range of issues at play during the 2020 election season, from health care and economic mobility to climate change, immigration, education and mass incarceration.” 

Dillard expressed how important it will be for students from interdisciplinary backgrounds to participate in the activities.

“In this moment in U.S. politics, the most pressing issues that confront us as a nation are radically interdisciplinary,” Dillard said. “Hence, solutions will need to span academic disciplines, will need to be responsive to citizens and other members of communities, will need to be grounded in evidence and open to inquiry, debate and the free exchange of ideas in ways that incorporate a diversity of opinions and lived realities.” 

Another member of the committee, Jenna Bednar, professor of political science, spoke on the committee’s efforts to get student input on the academic agenda. 

“We’re working with our student groups to make sure that we are able to incorporate as many student perspectives as possible into our decision making,” Bednar said. “They’re literally at the core of our decision-making process.” 

One of the groups the committee is working with is the Central Student Government. Public Policy senior and CSG President, Ben Gerstein, is one of the student leaders on the core committee, a unit of the PDAAC working with various departments involved with the debate. He said students have reacted positively to the idea of a themed semester. 

“I think it presents a unique opportunity for curricula from faculty who are putting together this with intention and the idea of making this an experience that not only do our students get to maximize their ability to experience what’s occurring when the debate is actually on campus, but have some sort of contextualized understanding,” Gerstein said.

Bednar said the committee will continue to design and prepare the themed semester with student voices and campus resources in mind. 

“It’s the first time the University’s hosted one of these debates, and so I hope that students feel a lot of pride in hosting and in having the world tuned into the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor,” Bednar said. “I hope that it gives (students) an opportunity to reflect on their own role as a citizen in our democracy.”

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