May Oppose WU Values
Monday, May 3, 2004
This year marks the third time Washington
University will host the Presidential Debates. Understandably, the entire
community, especially students, is excited to be a part of this event.
The Oct. 8 debate will allow students to get involved in the nation's
politics. Better yet, students will hopefully be energized by their proximity
to the presidential election and become committed to the democratic process.
The debate has a host of other benefits for the University, not least
of which is major publicity; every major media group will be here. The
University strives to be considered one of the nation's elite institutions,
and name recognition certainly helps. With a better reputation come increasing
numbers of talented faculty, bigger research grants and renewed alumni
interest. Students may also have a chance to interact with the media and
political elite, offering some potentially valuable networking opportunities.
All in all, the direct and indirect benefits to students from the debate
But the debates are marred by accusations from various political groups
that claim the debates are fundamentally partisan and exclude minority
views. The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD), which organizes the
debates, requires that candidates be supported by 15 percent of the national
electorate to be included in the debates. Furthermore, they must appear
on enough state ballots to be theoretically able to garner the 270 electoral
votes needed to secure the presidency.
These requirements exclude smaller parties and candidates, like the Green
Party and the Libertarian Party, from the debates. Effectively, the CPD
perpetuates the dominant two-party system and favors some political views
over others, wrote the Citizen's Debate Commission in a letter to Chancellor
The University acknowledges receiving the letter, but would not say whether
they agree or disagree with the allegations. Fred Volkmann, vice chancellor
for public affairs, pointed out that the CPD's authority comes from Congress,
and denied that the University was indirectly helping to censor minority
views. "We are simply providing a venue for the debate," he said. [Note
to Reader from Open Debates: The CPD is a private corporation with no
relationship to Congress whatsoever.]
It is unclear if the chancellor considered these objections to the debates;
he was unavailable for comment as of this writing. Hopefully, he did consider
the University's role in the nation's democratic process, and did not
only look at the benefits that come with hosting a Presidential Debate.
A cornerstone of academia is that all ideas should be heard and given
fair consideration; it would be a shame if the University were supporting
an event that does not share this conviction.