University of Notre Dame President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., a member of the Commission of Presidential Debates Board of Directors, attended the second U.S. presidential debate Sunday (Oct. 9) at Washington University in St. Louis.
Prior to the debate, Father Jenkins spent time speaking with C-SPAN discussing the format of the event, his experiences on the Commission and why presidential debates are hosted on college campuses.
“The point of these debates is to present the candidates to the voting public and let the voting public decide,” Jenkins said. “They’ll have to decide on complaints, how presentations went, whether the questions were answered and the character of the personality of the candidates. It’s their decision. All we (as a commission) do is present the candidates in the best possible way.”
When asked why presidential debates are held on college campuses, Jenkins said, “The debate is an educational exercise – to learn about the issues and about the candidates, and that’s what universities do. Universities are about educating people.
“(At universities) we’re most concerned about young people – how do we introduce the next generation of voters to the political process and get them engaged and involved? Putting these debates on campuses is an intentional decision by the commission because we see this as an educational exercise and as an attempt to involve the next generation of voters in the political process.”
Jenkins also cited the importance of attracting college students to politics at a young age.
“We want students engaged and talking about the political process, so that for the rest of their lives they will be engaged, thoughtful voters who want answers to questions,” he said. “That’s the heart of a university and it’s really at the heart of the purpose of the commission. We want to make the voting public as educated, as knowledgeable as they can possibly be, and if we can do that, we will have a healthier republic, a healthier democracy, and that’s our purpose.”
The Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that sponsors and produces all U.S. presidential and vice presidential debates, cited Father Jenkins’ leadership on civil discourse in electing him to its board of directors in 2011.