Community College Aims to be First to Sponsor Presidential Debate - Higher Education

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Community College Aims to be First to Sponsor Presidential Debate


by David Pluviose

Clark College in Vancouver, Wash., may be the first community college to ever sponsor a presidential debate. In partnership with the Metropolitan Exposition Recreation Commission of Portland, Ore., Clark aims to convince the Commission on Presidential Debates to select the Oregon Convention Center to host the candidates.

Mark Kirchmeier, project director for the Oregon-Washington [state] Presidential Debate Committee, the group making the bid, said colleges are involved in two-thirds of presidential debate site bids and commission members usually favor elite institutions.

“We wanted to change that discussion to make a fresh argument that community colleges educate more people than four-year colleges do,” Kirchmeier says. “Community colleges are a huge part of the education landscape, they’re a under-recognized part, and this is an opportunity for the U.S. Debate Commission to recognize a huge slice of America,” he adds.

Also, the Pacific Northwest is the only American region never to have hosted a debate, Kirchmeier says, and this proposal is the only one in recent history to involve a two-state metropolitan region.

Clark College President Robert K. Knight says numerous political leaders have backed the bid, including Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.), Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard and Jim Jacks, Southwest Washington representative for Governor Chris Gregoire (D). Also, Knight says Dr. George R. Boggs, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, has also signed a letter of support.

“Community colleges incorporate citizens from all ages, from young to mature learners, representing the entire voting population, potentially. It’s just a natural fit that a community college be a sponsor of one of the debates,” Knight says.

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Knight says Clark College could potentially serve as a focal point for a “Debate Month” of national speakers, symposia and a series of presidential “Debate Watch” events for students throughout the Vancouver-Portland area.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is expected to announce debates sites shortly after its October board meeting.

–David Pluviose


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