A Message from Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C. - Notre Dame Forum and Presidential Debate

Dear Members of the Notre Dame Community:

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas break and that the spring semester of 2020 is off to a good start. I write with some information about the U.S. presidential debate, sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates, that will be held on campus this fall. The University looks forward to hosting 2020’s first presidential debate—and the first such debate hosted at Notre Dame—on Tuesday, September 29.

2020 Forum: The Presidential Debate and Election

The televised presidential debates stand apart from the speeches, rallies, television ads, claims and counter-claims that are part of presidential campaigns in our age. For in the debates, candidates are invited to meet face-to-face and engage in serious discussion about the substantive issues facing our nation. These debates invite us who are citizens to be informed, discerning listeners and, eventually, voters. I hope we in the Notre Dame community will respond to this invitation to participate as good listeners.

We will make the presidential debates and election the themes of the 2020 Notre Dame Forum. As is our custom, our office will plan several keynote events as part of the Forum. Through these keynote events, we hope to invite the campus community to explore the history of presidential debates, offer insights into what to look for in the debates, and provide food for thought about the key issues before us as citizens in the upcoming election. We will, of course, share much more information about the keynote events the President’s Office is planning in the months ahead. To the extent you are planning events that relate to the Forum, I invite you to send that information to us at president@nd.edu so that we may include it on our Forum website, which we will launch in February.

In the coming election year, I encourage every member of the Notre Dame community to take advantage of opportunities to inform themselves and to engage in serious, honest but civil discussion about the issues and candidates. The hosting of this debate and the coming election cycle is an opportunity for the members of this community to model vigorous and honest disagreement that is at the same time respectful and reasoned. Whether in the context of a classroom discussion, an informal conversation with fellow students or colleagues, or in hosting an event aimed at bringing people together to explore a specific topic, I encourage you to rise to that challenge.

Tickets to the Presidential Debate at Notre Dame

The presidential debate on September 29 will be held in the Purcell Pavilion of the Joyce Center. When the stage has been assembled, only a portion of the seats in the arena will be available. Tickets to the event will be allocated by the Commission on Presidential Debates, and the University will receive a small and as yet undetermined number of tickets to allocate. Although I would like to provide access to every member of the Notre Dame community, this will not be possible.

We have decided that all tickets the University receives for the debate will be distributed by lottery to currently enrolled Notre Dame students. We will, however, invite all members of the Notre Dame community to a special debate watch that evening at Notre Dame Stadium. I personally will have a role in welcoming the candidates, the moderator and all in the Purcell Pavilion to Notre Dame and then will excuse myself to join those assembled in the stadium for the debate watch. I invite every member of the Notre Dame community who does not have a ticket to the arena to join me.

Though on a smaller scale, we will plan to host debate watches for the other debates that the Commission on Presidential Debates will sponsor this fall—the vice presidential debate on Wednesday, October 7, at the University of Utah; the second presidential debate, on Thursday, October 15, at the University of Michigan; and the third presidential debate, Thursday, October 22, at Belmont University.

Disruption and an Opportunity

We anticipate some disruption in the week leading up to the debate as security, the television production crew and the media prepare for the event. We expect disruption mainly to the Joyce Center, Corbett Family Hall and sections of the parking lots adjacent to the Joyce Center. We will do our best to minimize any inconvenience, but we ask in advance for your patience and understanding.

As we prepare for the debate, let us also remember that it will shine a spotlight on our campus. Approximately 3,000 journalists and support staff from around the world are expected, and the telecast will be seen not only by millions in the United States, but by millions more around the world. Let us do our best to embody our characteristic Notre Dame hospitality, and to show ourselves to be engaged, thoughtful and civil. I am sure you will, and I am excited to join you in hosting the first presidential debate of 2020.


In Notre Dame,
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.