U-M to welcome international ‘champions of democracy’ for key debate symposium

November 21, 2019

In conjunction with hosting a presidential debate next fall, the University of Michigan will welcome representatives from regions across the globe for a symposium on promoting political candidate debates and other key democratic principles and practices in their home countries.

The university will partner on the event with the Commission on Presidential Debates and the National Democratic Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to support and strengthen democratic institutions worldwide through citizen participation, openness and accountability in government. Some 60 debate organizers from Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as the Middle East and North Africa are expected to attend.

"At the University of Michigan, we take very seriously our responsibility to advance knowledge and promote civic engagement,” U-M President Mark Schlissel said. “We are proud that the Commission on Presidential Debates and the National Democratic Institute will bring representatives from around the world to Ann Arbor to learn about the crucial role of debates and the democratic process.”

The event will be designed as an intensive study visit and symposium centered around debate best practices and the electoral process. The Weiser Diplomacy Center at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy will lead the events in partnership with the CPD and NDI in the days leading up to and including the Oct. 15, 2020, presidential debate. The debate, which will take place at UM’s Crisler Center, will be the second in a series of three presidential debates next year prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

During the course of the visit, U-M faculty and students will have the opportunity to engage with members of local and national civic organizations, media outlets and election authorities from around the world.

“Hosting this symposium is an exciting opportunity. Champions of democracy from all parts of the world – including government officials, media and civil society leaders – will come to share their diverse experiences with students and the broader U-M community,” said John Ciorciari, associate professor of public policy and director of the Weiser Diplomacy Center and International Policy Center at the Ford School of Public Policy. “The symposium will illuminate how debates and other related democratic practices function in the United States and elsewhere and help build a stronger network of advocates for democratic principles, on campus and around the globe.”

The visit and symposium will include a backstage tour of the debate hall and an exchange of ideas, experiences and best practices from each country. Discussions will include ones on technical elements of debate production, such as lighting and set design, as well as organizational elements such as selecting a debate venue, the role of moderators, format options and the use of social media to promote debates.

More broadly, the partnership with CPD and NDI will involve discussions about core issues of democracy, and an opportunity to exchange ideas about electoral best practices and citizen engagement.

Visiting debate organizers also will get the chance to observe media center arrangements for more than 3,000 on-site journalists and learn from university officials about their role in hosting the debate and engaging students and faculty in the months before and after debates.

Participants will take part in on-campus activities such as debate-related coursework, lecture series, teach-outs, policy information fairs and student and faculty debate discussions.

The CPD and NDI have collectively helped sponsors stage more than 400 debates in about 45 countries. Past study missions and international symposiums led some participants to organize debates in their home countries for the first time.

"It is most generous of the University of Michigan to host the 2020 meeting of this inspiring group of debate leaders," said Kenneth Wollack, co-chair of the CPD.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and has sponsored all general election presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988.

In addition to the debate at U-M, presidential debates for this election cycle 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.

Authored by Don Jordan and originally published on Michigan News.

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