When Sarah Palin debated Joe Biden during the 2008 campaign for President at Washington University in St. Louis, almost 70 million viewers watched the live broadcast. In 2012, Centre College hosted the Vice-Presidential Debate between Biden and Paul Ryan and over 51 million households were tuned-in to the 90-minute television event. After a lengthy application process, the Commission for Presidential Debates (CPD) selected Longwood University to host the 2016 Vice-Presidential Debate on October 4 and millions of people from around the world will learn about Longwood for the first time.

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Over the last four months, senior leadership at Longwood has met with the CPD, traveled to other universities that have hosted past debates, and hired a part-time employee to help the university stay on task. Sub-committees have been established to coordinate things like hospitality for the 3,000 members of the media that will ascend on Farmville, Virginia. University leaders are working on hugely important issues like credentialing, preparing IT services and rate cards, coordinating with the Secret Service on security, and preparing physical spaces where the campaigns will set-up shop.

There are specific procedural and logistical requirements coordinated by the CPD when it comes to putting on the vice-presidential debate, but everything else is up to the university. Much of the work is about successfully executing the debate event itself. At the end of the day (or debate), that’s what really matters. For the CPD, the broadcast must go smoothly as it airs to an international viewing audience and journalists need to be able to file their stories afterwards. For Longwood, it’s important to capitalize on the excitement, visibility, and momentum that comes with it, along with the educational experience for our students. Will the debate be something that comes and goes, or years in the future will Longwood look back on this moment as a significant marker in its history? University leadership hope for the latter, of course. We plan to measure success with engagement data and expect this event to impact awareness of Longwood, its rich history and place in the community.

The job

As the chair of a sub-committee dedicated to academic and public programs, my role is to work with members and the entire community to: 1) coordinate “pre-season” events and initiatives leading up to the week of the debate, 2) plan all “pre-game” programming that occurs the week of, and night of, the debate other than the event itself, 3) work with local schools on K-12 programming and curriculum inserts connected to the debate at Longwood, 4) support student-led programming, 5) connect the debate to curriculum by infusing the event into existing academic themes, coursework and events.

It’s a huge job and it’s all great, but it makes me sweat a little when I think about it!

Our Longwood Office of Alumni and Career Services team will work with committee members and senior leaders to put on some exciting events on the way to October 4. I plan to share my insights here on the Higher Ed Live blog along with some updates about how things are going. While the event is localized here at Longwood, it is still a national forum and a part of our country’s rich democratic history. Please checkout future posts, ask questions, provide your ideas, and be a part of the process with me. I could use your help!


Article Author

Ryan Catherwood

Ryan Catherwood

Higher Ed Live blogger and Former Host of Advancement Live
Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services, Longwood University

Ryan Catherwood is the Assistant VP for Alumni and Career Services at Longwood University. Prior to joining Longwood, he was the Director of Digital Strategy in the University Advancement office at the University of Virginia. His work is dedicated to strategies that utilize events, crowdsourcing, inbound and content marketing, email marketing and social media community management in order to drive alumni and student engagement, participation, connections, networking, volunteerism and giving at Longwood University.


Ryan Catherwood

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  • Ashley Budd

    Sounds like a really big job, Ryan! Wishing you the best of luck. I’m really curious what kind of engagement metrics you’ll be using to measure success and track participation. Hope to hear more about that in future posts!

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