u of m cancels debate
Photos via the Associated Press

While President Trump is resuming rallies, U-M takes a different approach to ending the spread of the coronavirus.

ANN ARBOR, MI — Michigan will no longer host the Oct. 15 Presidential Debate, reports the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD). This was the decision of the University of Michigan, which was scheduled to host the debate. 

“Given the scale and complexity of the work we are undertaking to help assure a safe and healthy fall for our students, faculty and staff, and limited visitors — and in consideration of the public health guidelines in our state as well as advice from our own experts — we feel it is not feasible for us to safely host the presidential debate as planned,” U-M President Mark Schlissel wrote in a letter to CPD. 

CPD said that the university determined it was no longer “feasible” to host the October debate.

Approaching an Election Cautiously

This decision follows Monday’s announcement that the university will resume in-person instruction in the fall, as reported by the Detroit Free Press. The approach the university is taking to that in-person instruction and on-campus living is part of the reason Schlissel withdrew the university from hosting the October debate. 

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Withdrawing from the debate will not mean that U-M isn’t planning programming around political engagement in October. The university is hosting virtual debate watch parties and encourages fall students to participate in the Big Ten Voting Challenge

“The university will, however, forge ahead with the vigorous campus programming around the general election,” said Rick Fitzgerald of U-M Public Affairs in a statement to The ‘Gander.The ‘Democracy and Debate’-themed semester will engage the university community around the topics of free speech and the exchange of ideas, what it means to be a member of a democratic society, and democratic engagement from a global perspective.”

Approaching an Election Incautiously

This caution contrasts with the recent campaign events held by President Donald Trump, who has resumed hosting campaign rallies despite the continuing health risks posed by the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

At least eight Trump campaign staffers were diagnosed with coronavirus surrounding his controversial rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma Saturday, reports CNN. Attendees of the rally were given a disclaimer that attendance posed health risks. 

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“By attending the Rally, you and any guests voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19 and agree not to hold Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.; BOK Center; ASM Global; or any of their affiliates, directors, officers, employees, agents, contractors, or volunteers liable for any illness or injury,” the disclaimer read.

Trump held a rally in Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday, as well. The backdrop for this campaign event was a rising infection rate and record hospitalizations from the coronavirus in recent days, the Hill reports

The Debates Must Go On

As for the presidential debates, CPD has already found a replacement for U-M.

The presidential debates are scheduled for Sept. 29 at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Oct. 15 at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami and Oct. 22 at Belmont University in Tennessee.

The vice presidential debate is set for Oct. 7 at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

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There are contingencies in place for all of the debate sites, according to a person familiar with the matter who insisted on anonymity to discuss planning. This person noted that large performing arts venues that would otherwise be booked in the fall are available because the pandemic has led to the cancellation of so many events.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.