The University of Notre Dame announced Monday it would be backing out of hosting the first presidential debate due to the pandemic. The debate was scheduled for September 29th in the Purcell Pavilion on campus.
University Spokesperson Paul Browne said the necessary health precautions needed to safely host the debate would have defeated the purpose of hosting it in the first place.
“If we couldn’t have a large participation by our students and a large participation by our community then what’s the point of hosting it?” Browne said.
Browne said Notre Dame was originally hoping to allow thousands of students to attend the debate but due to the pandemic, could only have safely hosted roughly one hundred or fewer students.
“We’re so limited to keep people safe that it really didn’t make sense to go forward with the program as we envisioned it early on before this pandemic was on the horizon.”
Browne said the decision to withdraw from hosting the debate did not have to do with the rising COVID-19 case numbers in St. Joe County.
When the University of Michigan announced in late June that it would back out of hosting the second presidential debate, Notre Dame officials were still planning on hosting the first debate at that point - but now have reversed course.
The debate has been moved to the Health Education Campus at the Case Western University and Cleveland Clinic.
(You can read Notre Dame's release below.)
University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced today the University has withdrawn as the host site for the first of the 2020 presidential debates, scheduled for Sept. 29.
After consultation with Dr. Mark Fox, St. Joseph County deputy health officer, and with the unanimous support of the Executive Committee of the University’s Board of Trustees, Father Jenkins made what he called “this difficult decision because the necessary health precautions would have greatly diminished the educational value of hosting the debate on our campus.” In a letter earlier today to the Notre Dame community, Father Jenkins said that “the inevitable reduction in student attendance in the debate hall, volunteer opportunities and ancillary educational events undermined the primary benefit of hosting — to provide our students with a meaningful opportunity to engage in the American political process.”
Father Jenkins added: “I am grateful to the many members of the University community who put in countless hours planning for this event, and to the Commission on Presidential Debates leadership for their professionalism and understanding. But in the end, the constraints the coronavirus pandemic put on the event — as understandable and necessary as they are — have led us to withdraw.”
He concluded by saying that “despite this decision, I hope we will all remain attuned to the many important issues facing our nation during this election year — and, please, let’s exercise our right and privilege to vote on Tuesday, Nov. 3.”
Notre Dame has hosted six presidents at commencement ceremonies through the years – more than any university in the nation other than the military academies – but this would have been the University’s first presidential debate.
The Commission on Presidential Debates, of which Father Jenkins is a board member, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization and has sponsored all general election presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988.