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Little-Known Florida School Hopes For Presidential Debate Bump

Oct 21, 2012
Originally published on October 21, 2012 7:40 pm

Whenever 19-year-old Robbie Walsh tells friends and family back home in Maryland that he goes to Lynn University, they do a double-take.

"They go, 'Lynn University? What?'" he says. "Then I have to tell them it's in Boca Raton, Florida, and a lot of them say, 'Oh, FAU,' or 'The University of Miami.'"

Many of Lynn's students and faculty who gather at the campus cafe say they hear that sort of thing all the time. But university spokesman Joshua Glanzer says a new T-shirt showing up on campus gives it right back.

"The front of the T-shirt says ... 'We haven't heard of you, either,'" Glanzer says.

Lynn University is only 50 years old, and it doesn't have a famous sports team like the University of Miami's Hurricanes. Academically, it has struggled with lower-than-average graduation rates. So if you're a small private college with a less-than-stellar rep, how do you raise your profile? Well, perhaps by being the official host of a presidential debate.

The little-known South Florida campus is hosting Monday's debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

"We cast our horseshoe and we thought, 'Let's see,'" says Lynn University President Kevin Ross. "Then when it came to pass, we were thrilled that not only did we land a debate, we landed a presidential debate, and the final debate."

In the year since Lynn snagged the debate, its 2,000 students have watched a quiet campus turn into a hotbed of activity. The university has even integrated the event into its curriculum, adding 80 new debate-related courses. Students in the education department also developed an online civics course for grade-schoolers.

Transforming a small campus into a political main stage comes with a cost. Lynn has spent $5 million getting ready for the event.

Mike McCurry, co-chair of the Commission on Presidential Debates, says the university can expect a solid return on the investment.

"Washington University in St. Louis, by hosting three debates, they've become a national brand now," McCurry says. "This certainly boosted their enrollment, their interest, their applications and even helped them attract faculty members.

"I think that Lynn will expect to see that kind of prominence."

That's something that Lynn University is counting on.

Copyright 2013 WLRN Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.wlrn.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

And on the topic of that debate, foreign policy won't be the only thing in the spotlight. So will Lynn University. It's a small and lesser-known school founded in 1962 in Boca Raton, Florida. And tomorrow night, Lynn University will have its own opportunity to raise its profile. Christine DiMattei of member station WLRN sent us this profile of the preparations there.

CHRISTINE DIMATTEI, BYLINE: Whenever 19-year-old Robbie Walsh tells friends and family back home in Maryland that he goes to Lynn University, they do a double-take.

ROBBIE WALSH: And they go, Lynn University? What? Then I have to tell them it's in Boca Raton, Florida, and a lot of them say, oh, FAU, or the University of Miami.

DIMATTEI: Many of Lynn's students and faculty who gather at the campus cafe say they hear that sort of thing all the time. But university spokesman Joshua Glanzer says a new T-shirt showing up on campus gives it right back.

JOSHUA GLANZER: The front of the T-shirt says: We haven't heard of you, either.

DIMATTEI: Lynn is only 50 years old. It doesn't have a famous sports team like the University of Miami's Hurricanes. And academically, Lynn has struggled with lower-than-average graduation rates. So if you're a small private college with a less-than-stellar rep, how do you raise your profile?

Lynn University president Kevin Ross holds up the T-shirt. The back reads: Official Host, Presidential Debate, 2012.

KEVIN ROSS: We cast our horseshoe and we thought, let's see. Perhaps this first time, we'd be passed over. But then when it came to pass, we were thrilled that not only did we land a debate, we landed a presidential debate, and the final debate.

DIMATTEI: In the year since Lynn snagged the debate, its 2,000 students have watched a quiet campus turn into a hotbed of activity. The university has even integrated the event into its curriculum, adding 80 new debate-related courses. Twenty-one-year-old Alexandra Vukadinovich is from Serbia. She predicts that after the debate, students will be standing in line to get into Lynn.

ALEXANDRA VUKADINOVICH: Usually I think in the United States when something is hot, they try to get it. It's like the iPhone 5, it's going to be.

DIMATTEI: Transforming a small campus into a political main stage comes with a cost. Lynn has spent $5 million getting ready for the event. But Commission on Presidential Debates co-chair Mike McCurry says the university can expect a solid return on the investment.

MIKE MCCURRY: Washington University in St. Louis, by hosting three debates, they've become a national brand now. And this certainly has boosted their enrollment, their interest, their applications and even helped them attract faculty members. And I think Lynn will expect to see that kind of prominence.

DIMATTEI: And that's something that Lynn University is counting on. For NPR News, I'm Christine DiMattei in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.