Debates should return to college campuses


So they are already beginning. Fox News will hold the first debate of this very busy presidential primary season Thursday night. The Republican Party TV event is not part of the official presidential debates, which are managed by the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The presidential election is more than 65 weeks away. The New York presidential primaries will take place about eight months from now. The presidential debates aren’t scheduled yet, but they probably won’t take place for 14 months, in October of next year.

The debate about where the debates will take place, however, has already begun.

A presidential debate working group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center has issued a recommendation that, if accepted by the debate commission, will have some locally important and nationally significant consequences.

Before we get to the Annenberg recommendation, let’s review the 2012 debates, all held that October, all at college campuses across the U.S. The first one took place at the University of Denver, Colo., and was followed eight days later by the vice presidential debate at Centre College in Kentucky. The second presidential debate, in a town-hall format, was held here in Nassau County, at Hofstra University, and the final one was at Lynn University in Florida. Hofstra hosted one of the debates in 2008 as well.

For next year’s debates, the commission has so far received site applications from Hofstra as well as colleges and universities in Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. But the Annenberg group wants the debates to be held in TV studios, not on college campuses. The group claims that the educational value of debates is minimal, and that the “spectacle” of campus debates should be avoided.

We think that moving the debates into TV studios is a bad idea, and, not surprisingly, so does Hofstra’s president, Stuart Rabinowitz. In a recent op-ed, he wrote, “The group is wrong and the commission should reject the inaccurate assumption that the educational benefits of hosting a presidential debate begin and end on the day of the event.”

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