Large barbed-wire fences now surround parts of the campus of Hofstra University. Parking lots are closing, entire buildings are being emptied. Were it not for the “DEBATE 2016, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY” signs covering the campus grounds, one might think something more sinister was going on.
This anomaly has turned into a cyclical occurrence for the school. Hofstra is preparing to be the first university in the nation to host its third presidential debates in as many consecutive election cycles. Neither of the prior two have warranted nearly as much security, nor have they drawn as much controversy as this year’s brings. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have unfavorable ratings hovering around 60 percent, higher than those of previous candidates on record.
While Hofstra wasn’t initially chosen as a site for one of the debates, it speaks volumes that the Commission on Presidential Debates saw the school’s potential for grace under pressure.
The Commission alluded to the university’s success as a host in 2008 and 2012 when announcing Wright State’s withdrawal from the debate. Members of the campus community have first-hand insight into what makes the school so qualified to host such a massive event.
“I think our experience with having done the two previous debates and having done it so successfully [helps],” said Ginny Ehrlich-Greenberg, the Director of Public Relations at Hofstra University.
“I think that having done it before and having had that experience under our belts probably does put [the committee’s] mind at ease a little bit… Obviously there’s pressure on us because with the other two debates we did have a lot more time to put everything together, so there was that cushion and now there’s so much less time.”
The university has had only eight weeks to do what they would generally have a year to plan for, however, much of the infrastructure was already in place after hosting previous debates. Karla Schuster, Assistant Vice President for remote broadcast logistics and media relations acknowledged Hofstra is “very, very fortunate that many of the people who were involved in putting together the debate and the programing here at Hofstra in 2008 and 2012 are still here in similar or the same roles.”
According to Schuster, the debate affects all aspects of campus, including the student body.
“We’ve done a good job at [hosting] in previous years… I think we’re an exceptional school, and I think it shows when students here are qualified enough to volunteer and work with professionals,” said Pakelody Cheam, a PR student who is volunteering with national media during the debate.
Schuster attests to the life-changing experiences that are offered to the students during these debates. “We see that the students who get involved in the debate get an extraordinary experience out of it. It can be transformative in terms of the kinds of careers they choose and the experiences that they have.”
As security tightens and credentials are distributed, Hofstra’s campus will serve as the home base for several thousands of journalists from virtually every state in the U.S. and from countries around the world such as Japan, Norway and Uzbekistan.
Every part of campus will be roaring with spirit for the debate. Schuster noted that the parking lot behind the Human Resources will be cleared out and transformed into broadcast plaza. “We’ll have CNN, FOX and MSNBC with large pop-up stages and they’ll start broadcasting from here on Sunday.”
The university has also prepared sectors dedicated to social media, an ever growing game-changer in campaigning. Various media outlets will have digital walls throughout campus flashing social media content in residence halls and the David S. Mack Student Center.
“It’s clear that [social media] is where the conversation happens now,”said Schuster.
It’s taken a lot of hard work from a variety of departments, but Hofstra seems ready to handle the madness come Monday.
Schuster said, “There’s an extraordinary wealth of institutional knowledge here of what needs to happen.”