Debate Steering Committee will guide U-M’s hosting efforts


Planning for the presidential debate that will be staged on the University of Michigan campus in October is well underway, with the Debate Steering Committee providing overall guidance for a long list of tasks and events being considered.

U-M will host the second of three debates between the Democratic and Republican nominees for president of the United States at the Crisler Center on Oct. 15. The other two debates will be at the University of Notre Dame and Belmont University. The debates are organized by the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

Leading the effort, which will touch many aspects of the university community, are Michael Barr, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations. They chair a 19-member Debate Steering Committee.

Wilbanks characterized the steering committee as providing the “north star” for the debate effort, with a separate Debate Core Team handling the critical “nuts and bolts” of the complex logistical effort.

“In the short time since the announcement that the university was selected to host a debate, the campus community already has generated scores of suggestions for robust academic engagement, and the number of ideas being suggested for engaging students in the debate is inspiring,” Barr said.

The debate planning and preparation work that is now underway “is designed to ensure we have input from all corners of the campus community, including the UM-Dearborn and UM-Flint campuses,” Wilbanks said.

U-M also will partner with the Commission on Presidential Debates and the National Democratic Institute to host a series of events during the week of the presidential debate. Those events are designed to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, open debates and accountability in government.

The Weiser Diplomacy Center at the Ford School will lead those events, which are expected to draw 80 delegates from around the globe.

Additionally, an 11-person Presidential Debate Academic Advisory Committee has been charged with identifying key themes for academic engagement — including a universitywide theme semester focused on democracy and debate — and is working to involve faculty and students in a variety of ways.

Guiding the overall debate effort is a mission statement developed in consultation with members of the steering committee, the core team, university leaders and others.

The mission statement says, in part, that as a debate host site, the university “seeks to inspire engagement in the democratic process … coordinate plans and preparations for a well-executed debate and offer programming throughout the year that will call upon the expertise of our faculty, the involvement of our students, the commitment of our staff, and the vibrancy of the entire U-M community.”

Additionally, the mission statement says, “Debating issues of the day and engaging in the democratic process are core responsibilities of our academic institution and a national — and international — imperative of our times.”

The Debate Core Team is a larger group that is representative of the many individual areas of expertise that are needed to stage such an important event, such as Information and Technology Services, Student Life, Academic Innovation, Central Student Government, Athletics, the Division of Public Safety and Security, and the Office of the Vice President for Communications.

This team is led by two co-operational leads for the presidential debate, Catherine Carver from the Ford School and Ann Zalucki from U-M facilities and operations.Inquiries regarding the presidential debate may be emailed to


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