Faculty group to set academic agenda for 2020 presidential debate


When it was announced this fall that the University of Michigan would host a presidential debate in October 2020, President Mark Schlissel celebrated the opportunity for the campus community to engage in academic and civic experiences related to the debate.

And now, a new faculty advisory committee will begin to explore what those experiences could look like in the months leading up to the Oct. 15, 2020, event.

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The 11-person Presidential Debate Academic Advisory Committee is charged with identifying key themes for academic engagement, and may establish subgroups and other working groups to involve additional faculty in the planning process.

“Hosting the debate provides an opportunity for scholarly engagement such as theme semesters, teach-ins and teach-outs, symposia and other focused activities that add vibrancy to academic life on campus and provide a way to enrich student and public discussions around the 2020 election,” said Amy Dittmar, acting provost and executive vice president for academic affairs.

“This committee will ensure that faculty play a strong, central role in the development of a robust academic agenda.”

The committee will be chaired by Angela Dillard, Richard A. Meisler Collegiate Professor of Afroamerican and African Studies and in the Residential College, and professor of Afroamerican and African studies and in the Residential College, LSA.

“As scholars and educators, we are excited by the possibilities of curricular and co-curricular engagement for students and other members of the U-M community, as well as members of the public,” Dillard said.

“The debate will come and go. What’s more exciting is the campuswide opportunity to both celebrate and interrogate American democracy — and democratic societies, more generally — in ways that draw on our strengths as a public university with a world-class faculty and a highly engaged student body.”

In addition to the academic events, Dillard said she hopes the committee works closely with bipartisan, inclusive efforts on all three campuses “to encourage students to register to vote, to be in dialogue with each other and to be fully engaged with the challenges that define the choices confronting us as citizens, residents and members of a global community.”

Additional committee members are:

  • Jenna Bednar, Edie N. Goldenberg Endowed Director for the Michigan in Washington Program; professor of political science and research professor in the Center for Political Studies.
  • Michelle Bellino, assistant professor of education.
  • Ted Brader, professor of political science and research professor in the Center for Political Studies.
  • Colleen Conway, professor of music education.
  • Barry Rabe, J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and professor of public policy, of environmental policy, and of Program in the Environment and political science.
  • Yeidy Rivero, professor of American culture, of film, television and media, and chair of the Department of Film, Television and Media.
  • Stephanie Rowden, associate professor of art and design.
  • Kristin Seefeldt, associate professor of social work, professor of public policy and associate director of Poverty Solutions.
  • Ashwin Shahani, assistant professor of materials science and engineering.
  • Rob Stephenson, professor of nursing and director of academic programs in the School of Nursing; faculty associate in the Population Studies Center; and professor of health behavior and health education.

The faculty committee will begin meeting soon and report to the Debate Steering Committee, which is co-chaired by Michael Barr, dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations.

Additionally, the Office of Student Life will develop educational and outreach programs that complement the academic programming. The programs will focus on democratic engagement and practices, as well as fostering an inclusive campus climate through open dialogue throughout the community.  

The debate, which will take place at Crisler Center, will be the second in a series of three presidential debates next year prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

The massive event will be staged largely on the university’s athletics campus. Educational and outreach activities will take place in facilities near Crisler Center and in other parts of the Ann Arbor campus.

Other presidential debates will take place at the University of Notre Dame on Sept. 29, and Belmont University on Oct. 22. The University of Utah will host a vice presidential debate Oct. 7.


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