‘U’ to cancel plans to host 2020 Presidential debate this fall

Monday, June 22, 2020 - 11:09pm

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Kelsey Pease/Daily

The University of Michigan will withdraw from hosting the Presidential Debate in October between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, the Detroit Free Press reported on Monday. 

The debate was scheduled to be held at the Crisler Center on Oct. 15, and the University had planned for a semester enriched with classroom topics related to the debate. According to the Detroit Free Press, the University is concerned with inviting members of both campaigns, media and supporters to campus in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As a result, the debate will be relocated to Miami’s Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, per The New York Times. This location also hosted the first debates of the 2020 Democratic primary season last year. 

In an official press release on Tuesday morning, University President Mark Schlissel said hosting the debate is a “tremendous opportunity” for the University to contribute to the values of democracy. However, concerns with maintaining public health guidelines and the safety of the University community in the middle of the pandemic ultimately shaped the decision to withdraw, Schlissel said.

“Given the scale and complexity of the work we are undertaking to help assure a safe and healthy fall for our students, faculty and staff and limited visitors — and in consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned,” Schlissel said.

Ann Arbor city council member Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, said the decision to cancel hosting the Presidential Debate was the right choice for a number of reasons. 

“(The debate) would have brought a very dangerous circus into town, and I think we’re going to be better off not inviting what could be a very dangerous situation on many different levels,” Ramlawi said. “I don’t see any upside with having it unfortunately. With any other Presidential Debate, it would be an honor, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s generally a very well-received privilege. Unfortunately, in this case, you don’t have that same sense.”  

The Commission on Presidential Debates also released an announcement early this morning confirming the relocation of the debate. The other three debates will take place at the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, IL on Sept. 29, The University of Utah in Salt Lake City, UT on Oct. 7 and Belmont University in Nashville, TN on Oct. 22. 

A spokesperson from Belmont University said their plans for hosting the third debate is well underway, and they are committed to prioritizing the safety and security of their community.

“Belmont University is honored, excited and fully committed to serve as host site for the third and final Presidential Debate on October 22, 2020,” the email read. “In partnership with the Commission on Presidential Debates, all planning is moving forward with the safety of our campus community, the candidates, campaign staffs, members of the press and all other guests as the top priority.”

The decision to cancel hosting follows Biden’s commitment to participate in three debates, as opposed to the four debates Trump’s campaign was looking to schedule. 

This comes the same day the University declared an in-residence fall semester for the upcoming school year. 

In response to the announcement, Public Policy senior Grace Hermann, the University’s chapter of College Democrats Chair, said the decision to cancel the debate should have been made earlier on. 

“I think that many people on campus are relieved that the University is finally taking students' health and safety into account, which otherwise had been largely ignored since the debate was first announced,” Hermann said. “It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic for University administration to see the huge concerns of safety when officials have been ignoring the concerns of students, staff, and community members from the beginning. I am sure some people on campus, perhaps even President Schlissel, are disheartened by the loss of this "historic" opportunity, but I am thankful that the powder keg that would have been this debate has been averted.” 

Similarly, LSA sophomore Nick Schuler, College Republicans Freshman Chair, said he understands the need to prioritize the community’s health and safety, despite the potential for a unique opportunity to be a part of history. 

“While I was certainly looking forward to the debate and the political energy it would have brought to campus, I understand that the safety of the students, faculty, and visitors is the number one priority,” Schuler said.

LSA sophomore Andrew Schaeffler, co-founder of Students for Biden, said he isn’t surprised the University doesn’t want to host, given the current state of uncertainty with the pandemic. He said he believes there will be additional methods for students to engage in the Presidential Debate. 

“It’s to be expected, and if it’s for the health and safety of the community of the students who are going to be there, then it’s definitely going to be the best,” Schaeffler said. “I know there will be other ways to encourage voters to become active and to bring attention to the role that Michigan will play in the Presidential Debate.”

Summer News Editor Kristina Zheng can be reached at krizheng@umich.edu.