DEAD IN ITS TRACKS: Mc$hane kills bid for 2016 debate on campus

After being coaxed by optimistic officials within Fordham’s Alumni Relations office, four juniors spent weeks this semester tirelessly doing research and coordinating a massive canvassing effort on campus as they planned to help administrators submit Fordham’s name as the possible host of a 2016 presidential debate.

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 11.19.45 AMThe enterprising students worked out with administrators that they would collect 3,000 student signatures — demonstrating significant interest in the effort — provide a cost-benefit analysis based on the strategies of universities who previously hosted debates and find solutions to a series of strict logistical requirements.

Accomplish that by early March, and administrators would likely move to push the bid forward, Alumni Relations told the students.

In fact, administrators had reviewed the preliminary data and agreed that Rose Hill met the space requirements to host a debate, the students said.

After countless meetings, pages of research, an official endorsement from USG and more than 1,000 student signatures of support, the students said they were well on their way when Fordham President Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J., swooped in and pulled the rug out from under them.

The effort was shot down — and for bogus reasons, the student organizers told Fordham Daily.

The group championing the effort included: Evan Swager, Thomas Roemer, Thomas Samuelson and Alexandra Utech — three of them roommates, and all of them USG senators. (Swager, Roemer and Samuelson unsuccessfully fought last semester to bring New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, FCRH ’79, to campus for a debate as he sought re-election.)

“I spoke with the Alumni Association a few times about their involvement,” Swager said. “They wrote a letter to Father McShane, called almost all of the administration offices, and encouraged USG to pass a resolution, which we did.”

But that wasn’t enough. Having received orders from McShane, Alumni Relations told the students they wouldn’t “push” the issue, according to email communications. 

After several failed attempts to contact McShane in an effort to better understand why this effort fell flat, the students finally heard back and the president requested a meeting for next week — cutting into their spring breaks.

A spokesman for McShane told Fordham Daily in February that the university was not “actively pursuing a debate,” but students said the door was left open if they could deliver signatures. Alumni Relations declined to comment.

Here are the reasons Alumni Relations told the students Fordham could not submit a bid to host a 2016 presidential debate. And here are the explanations for why the students say those reasons don’t hold up.

The logistics are too difficult given that the Rose Hill Gym and football field are the “only” venues with the capacity to meet the space requirements for the debate — and they would need substantial reconstruction.

“This is not entirely accurate if one looks at the square footage requirements of the debate packet and the square footage we have present in Lombardi Field house and McGinley,” Swager said. “Many other buildings easily meet the requirements for the temporary office/rooms requirement.”

Still, the infrastructure adjustments required in order to comply with regulations set forth by the Commission on Presidential Debates would be significant. 

“While it would be possible to change out wiring, certain other things would require work,” Swager conceded.

It would cost Fordham between $5M – 8M.

“No one else had ever spent this much money on a debate — even Hofstra,” Swager said. “In our estimates, we never got remotely close to $8M. Our estimates included mandatory and all typical cost that every university in the past has experienced. We then applied the cost and looked into how different it would be for an event in the Bronx. Our estimates were much lower.”

The overall cost to Fordham would likely have been between $4M and $5M, the students found.

“We did research into universities that had hosted the event and noticed that most of them were donor or sponsor funded, sometimes even 100% funded,” Swager said. “Notably, Arizona State University, Miami, and Hofstra financed their debates this way.”

Well, we couldn’t fund it without donors — and there are no volunteers!

While it may be true that Fordham would need donor support, Swager said most university hosts did not begin fundraising until six months after their bids had been submitted.

“The fundraising is also gradual because the payments to the committee are paid in multiple installments over time, and not just one single payment,” he said. “Ultimately, we would have two years to find the money and we could raise funds after the debate.”

He added that financial support would likely have been available from local government groups, seeking to generate tourism revenue.

The application alone would have cost $8,000.

Last month, back when the effort was in full-swing, Swager said that even though he and his fellow organizers would have graduated by the time a national debate ever came to campus — if it ever would — the effort was still important to them.

“I think all of us want to do something for Fordham that benefits not just us, but students for years to come,” he said. “I think all of us want to leave a mark on administration and our legacy at Fordham in some way.”