A look back: The 2016 Notre Dame Forum on presidential debates

Author: Andy Fuller

Notre Dame will be hosting its first presidential debate in 2020, but interest in political discourse—including debates, specifically—has characterized campus life for years. 

Four years ago, the University dedicated its annual Notre Dame Forum to presidential debates. Through a series of events, the campus community carefully considered the role debates have in selecting the leader of the country. A series of short videos was distributed to the campus to help prepare for the discussion, each highlighting various inflection points in debate history. The videos featured analysis from Robert Schmuhl, the Walter H. Annenberg-Edmund P. Joyce Chair in American Studies and Journalism. One included the famous role televised debates played in the outcome of the 1960 election.

Commission on Presidential Debates; past debate moderators including the late Jim Lehrer, former news anchor for PBS News Hour, and Bob Schieffer, CBS News journalist; and Dorothy Ridings, former president of the League of Women Voters. Their discussion was moderated by Notre Dame’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., who, with Lehrer and Ridings, served on the Commission on Presidential Debates.

The wide-ranging discussion included examination of various candidate characteristics that emerge during debates, including those outside the realm of policy. Lehrer and Schieffer provided insight into the role of the moderator and what questions could prove most illuminating for viewers.

A couple of weeks later, the campus community gathered on South Quad for a debate watch party. The event included free food from area food trucks, and a large screen on which the debate was projected. Throughout the semester, events such as morning coffees and evening pizza gatherings provided more opportunities for students to engage in dialogue with each other about the issues in the election.

The Forum was another example of the emphasis on civil discourse Notre Dame has exhibited in other high-profile contexts, including at Commencement ceremonies in the past decade or more. It was a theme that was evident well after 2016 as well, and informed the creative approach to the University’s institutional message for the 2019-20 year.

Established in 2005, the Notre Dame Forum has featured major talks by leading authorities on issues of importance to the University, the nation and the larger world, including the challenges and opportunities of globalization, immigration, sustainability, and the place of faith in a pluralistic society. Read more about the 2016 Forum at https://forum2016.nd.edu/.