- Dr. Bob Fisher is in his 21st year as President of Belmont University.
October 8, 2008 was perhaps the calmest day I have experienced in 20 years on the Belmont University campus.
Just 24 hours earlier, millions of eyes around the world were on Belmont, then US Sens. Barack Obama and John McCain participated in the 2008 mayoral presidential debate, broadcast live from the Curb Event Center. By hosting this event, the very first presidential debate to be held in Tennessee, we secured a front row seat for Democracy in Action. It was a historic moment, a moment that we have tried to repeat ever since.
When the Presidential Debates Commission announced last October that Belmont had been chosen to host again, I was delighted. The wave of enthusiasm from our students, employees, parents and alumni has been even more encouraging. Now, with the debate in a few days, it’s easy to guess our role as hosts. Our lives are very different in 2020 from what they were in 2019.
Why Belmont is continuing the debate
In view of the global pandemic, many have asked why Belmont is still considering welcoming candidates, the campaigns and the media frenzy that accompanies it in the city. Four reasons immediately spring to mind …
First of all, we said we would. We believe it is important to keep our word as best we can, and we will do everything in our power to ensure an exceptional event for all participants because that is what we have promised to do.
We were honored last fall when CPD announced that Belmont had secured a position as a host site, and we remain honored today. CPD is our partner in this endeavor, and for a partnership to be meaningful, both parties need to be able to rely on each other, especially when the going gets tough. And with the guidance of some of the world’s leading voices in healthcare, the support of city and state authorities, and the generosity of our sponsors, we are well equipped to host this event safely and successfully.
Second, we take this role seriously. Organizing a presidential debate is a huge responsibility. We will provide the platform, 11 days before the election, for the electorate to hear the candidates together for the last time before they vote. This is a unique opportunity (well, twice for some members of our team) of civic service. We all want to do our part to serve our country through this event and be the kind of citizens our students will emulate.
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Third, Belmont embraces the big stages, knowing that it gives our students unprecedented experiences. Our students have been treated to an amazing list of virtual programs this semester under the theme “Ideas of America”.
Through lectures, online concerts and special events, they were challenged to reflect on the presidency, our government, the role of the media, and the impact of technology, healthcare, the immigration, racism and more. These conversations can take place on any campus, especially during an election year, but I guarantee our students are more engaged since we have our skin in the game. They recognize how important this moment is.
Bridging the political divide
Which brings me to my last point, our commitment to fostering civil discourse. This campus is teeming with passionate people representing a wide range of backgrounds, ethnicities, races and religions, which naturally leads to diverse opinions on every subject imaginable, including across political divisions.
If our students can fully engage in the difficult conversations surrounding this election and still maintain civility and camaraderie, always greet each other with respect and affection in the midst of social distancing … then maybe, just maybe , will these 8,200 young people have served as the model this world desperately needs?
Dr. Bob Fisher is in his 21st year as President of Belmont University.