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University invites candidates to campus

Sam Stryker | Tuesday, September 25, 2012

If Notre Dame has its way, the road to the White House may take a pass through South Bend.

Notre Dame announced Monday that University president Fr. John Jenkins and student body president Brett Rocheleau have extended invitations to President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to speak on campus during the fall election campaign, according to a University press release.

Continuing a 60-year University tradition, Jenkins and Rocheleau addressed letters to each candidate offering the University as a “forum for serious political discussion,” the press release stated.

The invitations are also open to both of the candidates’ running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), according to the press release. The invitations are intended “to provide the campus community a firsthand impression of the contenders and their messages,” the release stated.

University spokesman Dennis Brown said any appearances on campus would help continue the tradition of political discourse on campus.

“Universities provide for the free exchange of ideas, and that’s especially important when it comes to electing our president,” he said. “We have a 60-year tradition of inviting candidates to Notre Dame every four years, and we’re hopeful that one or both campaigns will send either their presidential or vice presidential candidates to our campus.”

Rocheleau, who also reached out to both campaigns earlier in the year via email, said he does not anticipate any timeline for a response. However, should any of the candidates accept, he said they will find a politically-balanced student body and an exceptional venue for political dialogue.

“I think it would be interesting to have the candidates speak at Notre Dame because we are a place of intellectual curiosity,” he said. “We’re pretty evenly mixed [between political parties]. I think it would be an interesting opportunity to spark intellectual conversation and I’d love for them to come visit and speak.”

Rocheleau said colleges and universities, especially a school like Notre Dame, offer a unique and important political avenue for the candidates to explore.

“I think they can hear what students and younger voters are interested in, and the issues that we truly care about,” he said. “I think it would be beneficial for them to visit colleges, especially Notre Dame, where we can talk about some of the issues we really care about.”

Notre Dame would benefit from a visit from any of the four candidates as well, Rocheleau said, as such an event would offer a means to spark important conversation.

“I think it would, overall, go to fostering intellectual curiosity and intellectual conversation on campus,” he said. “I think having one or both of the candidates speak at Notre Dame would be a great opportunity for students, undergrads as well as graduates, to hear and to think about things that are social and political.”

Notre Dame in particular has always been an academic institution heavily involved in the American political sphere, Rocheleau said.

“[Look] back to [University President Emeritus] Fr. [Theodore] Hesburgh working for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr., involvement with all the different presidents we have had in the past,” he said. “I think we have always had a tie to politics and the President of the United States.”

Hesburgh started the tradition of inviting presidential and vice-presidential candidates to speak at Notre Dame during election years, according to the press release. He invited Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in his first year as University president, and both accepted.

According to the press release, other candidates who have accepted the invitation to speak at Notre Dame include Richard Nixon, Henry Cabot Lodge, Warren Miller (a graduate of the University), Edmund Muskie, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Joe Lieberman.

Notre Dame already has one significant election season event on the calendar. On Oct. 17, the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center will host one of the three Indiana gubernatorial debates. Libertarian Rupert Boneham, Democrat John Gregg and Republican Mark Pence are expected to participate in the event.