Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Ellis Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As the University of Colorado’s campus opens up to semi-trucks, event crews and, well, the impending herd of journalists and officials, the fight for more tickets to the Republican presidential candidate debate seems to have finally come to a close. The lead-up to Wednesday’s CNBC-hosted debate at the Coors Events Center caused over a month of controversy, resulting in some progress but few results for impassioned students.
Last month, news broke that out of the 1,000 tickets allotted, CU students and faculty were only slated to take 50 — in an arena that seats 11,000. Wasting little time, students took to social media to organize a potential debate-night gathering and started a petition for more seats that has since shot past its original goal of 500 signatures. Student dissent manifested in ways like CU Student Government’s special resolution of disapproval and a letter to the editor of the CUI.
The ensuing wave of media coverage culminated in an acquiescence of sorts from the Republican National Committee, which announced a week later that the amount of student and faculty tickets would be bumped up to 100 — a small change in comparison to Student Voices Count’s petition request for 900 more student and faculty tickets, but an increase nonetheless.
Colorado Rep. Jared Polis jumped into the fray three days later with an open letter to CU Chancellor Phillip DiStefano, decrying that students would not be able to “meaningfully participate” in the debate process. An almost constant stream of coverage in the next four weeks, from outlets ranging from Denver’s 7News to the New York Times, gave SVC and other critics more momentum, and possibly influenced the RNC’s decision last Friday to increase the ticket allotment yet again to a total of 150.
Now, with one day left to go, as SVC continues to garner attention, and with another petition from ProgressNow already handed to university leadership, the tickets for this campus have likely all been distributed. Katey Haas, director of multimedia and technology for CUSG, is one of the students who got selected to attend the debate through the distribution process.
“I was invited by Ken Bickers, my professor and the director of the CU in D.C. program, which I participated in,” Haas said. “He got in contact with me and invited me to attend with his group.”
Haas is one of over 90 students who were chosen this way — originally, university administration planned for eight professors to each select four students to take with them to the debate. After the ticket increases, more professors and students were chosen; the final makeup of the 150 CU tickets is 99 students, 17 faculty and a group of 34 that includes regents, the chancellor, debate volunteers and all of their guests, CU Chief Spokesperson Ryan Huff said.
The professors, selected by deans of colleges and the provost, come from academic fields that most closely relate to the debate. The engineering college also received around eight to 10 tickets for students and faculty.
“For me, I was contacted by the provost’s office and was told I was selected — I was nominated by Lori Bergen, dean of [the College of Media, Communication and Information],” said Elizabeth Skewes, associate professor of journalism and media studies. “Based on the fact that I do political research, I’m assuming.”
Skewes said she is the only journalism professor attending; among the professors, there are three political science, one law and one or two from business and economics.
As debate day has drawn nearer, the ticket distribution process on campus has been shrouded in questions, with even attending professors like Skewes and CUSG officials finding themselves in the dark at times.
“CUSG doesn’t know about tickets outside of faculty and students,” Haas said. As promised in early October, an allotment of tickets was provided to CUSG to distribute to students as they see fit — but not enough to raise the claims of community engagement from the university administration. CUSG was given 10 tickets to distribute.
“We picked as representative a sample as representative of campus as possible,” CUSG President of External Affairs Joseph Soto said. “We picked students in the business school, veterans, grad students, disabled students and students interested in sustainability and social justice, since we know that’s a common thing on our campus. We [also] picked students involved in freshman life.”
“I’m as curious as you are as to who else is getting in,” said Skewes, who has attended several presidential debates in the past. “I’d expect state dignitaries, state representatives, people from the governor’s office to be there.”
The crowd, of course, will have a large presence of RNC and CNBC officials, and the speculation as to the large donor presence was confirmed yesterday by a Colorado Public Radio report — the Colorado Republican Committee, the state’s level of Republican party organization under the RNC, was allotted 200 tickets, which will be given to current and prospective donors to the party.
Republican officials in Colorado will also receive tickets. The RNC itself kept 200, and gave 10 to each of the 14 candidates, according to the report. Apart from that 540 and the 150 from CU, about 310 are left for CNBC and any other invitees the RNC deemed fit.
The university was not made aware of attendance information outside of the student and faculty audience, nor was it concerned with that information, Huff said.
Huff said the university has been asking for more tickets since August, before any backlash began. DiStefano put out a message to students in early October, defending the university from the criticism that has been raised.
Although DiStefano’s comparing CU’s debate audience size to the September debate audience of 300 in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library is misrepresentative — the Reagan Library can hold an audience of 1200 at the most, and the GOP’s first debate in August saw 4,500 people in a 21,000-capacity venue — Skewes and Soto underscore some of CNBC and the RNC’s logic in limiting seating to 1,000.
“I think that what’s difficult to understand is that TV audiences look very different from [event audiences],” Soto said. “Logistically and aesthetically, it made sense what CNBC and the RNC did.
“At the same time, students are right to be upset that they weren’t involved in the negotiation process and that there weren’t more student tickets,” Soto said. “Almost as much as for the lack of student ticketing, students are angry that they weren’t involved in the [contract and] negotiation process — I think you can’t argue against that.”
“I understand the disappointment at not being able to go when we’re having it here,” Skewes said. “It’s very tight, largely for security purposes…this is about a national audience. It’s not about the university community. The primary audience is voters nationwide.
“I think it’s great for students because it’s at CU, even if students can’t get in,” Skewes continued. “I think we’ll have a lot more students paying attention, and we have a lot of prominent issues in this debate.”
“I understand the frustration,” Haas said. “We are working very hard to find other avenues to support our students, with #BeHeardCU, so that students can have their questions heard.
“We’re trying to make the best out of the situation,” Haas said.
Due to credentialing requirements, Skewes said, all tickets had most likely been given out at the start of the week. But students have taken matters into their own hands, with the SVC group hosting its own watch party and live broadcast, in collaboration with BE HEARD! TV, that will showcase student discussion of issues during the debate on Wednesday. The CUSG-backed official debate watch party, in the UMC’s Glenn Miller Ballroom, starts at 4:45 p.m. on Wednesday.