OU still feels glow from November’s GOP debate
BY JENNIFER HOLYCHUK
OU News Bureau
In the five months since hosting the GOP presidential candidate debate, Oakland University’s applications and donations are up and continue to increase.
While this increase can’t be tied directly to the debate, OU officials maintain this moment in the national spotlight can only mean good things for the university.
Michelle Piskulich, associate provost and political science professor at OU, helped plan the debate and all related student activities. She said OU received significant national recognition from this event
“I was down in the media room, and there were news outlets from other countries,” she said. “We were also mentioned in all these other places — ‘The Daily Show,’ ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ‘Jimmy Kimmel’ and others.”
NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” did a sketch of the debate featuring footage of the front of the O’Rena three days after the debate.
“When you show up on SNL, you know you’ve arrived,” said Eric Barritt, vice president of Community Engagement & University Relations at OU.
CNBC and the Michigan Republican Party hosted the nationally televised debate Nov. 9. Thousands of visitors and media packed the O’Rena for the two-hour event, which took months of planning.
Debating were Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum.
Barritt said the debate sparked positive interest in OU.
“Applications are up significantly to Oakland,” Barritt said. “This is partly attributed to the national exposure of the debate … the OU footprint was stretched across the nation.”
Mary Beth Snyder, vice president for Student Affairs & Enrollment, said freshmen applications have spiked since the debate and are up 20 percent from last year.
“I believe that the GOP debate had a positive impact, along with our new marketing campaign, on our image and reputation across the state,” she said. “However, it is too early to tell if those applications will result in enrollment at OU next fall.”
OU journalism major and political science minor Eric Ratkowski was a debate volunteer scanning tickets at the door of the O’Rena. He said he does not believe that this event ultimately will make a large impact on the university.
“In the grand scheme of things, it was great for OU physique but may not have made much of a difference in the long run,” he said.
Applications are not the only positive change for OU since November. According to Barritt, donations are up 40 percent this year.
By March 31, OU raised $8.7 million in donations — which includes cash gifts, pledges, and deferred gift commitments — compared to $6 million at the same time last year, Barritt said.
“This is not attributed 100 percent to the debate, but the national exposure and involvement of our students and staff has had a positive impact,” he said. “The new medical school and the strengthening economy are factors, as well.”
Associate political science professor Dave Dulio helped coordinate the debate and called it “one of the most important events in OU’s history.”
“OU received unbelievable national exposure,” he said. “We had the chance to play a role in the democratic process of choosing a president.”
“I’ve been at Oakland for over 20 years, and I can say with certainty that this is the biggest thing that’s happened since I’ve been here,” she said.
Jordan Gonzalez, a journalism major and political science minor at OU, volunteered at the debate and directed media in the O’Rena. He echoed Dulio.
“I agree 100 percent … the amount of significance at the debate was of historical proportions,” Gonzalez said. “That happened here, at my school, in a building that I work out in.”
Piskulich hopes it will open the door to other events at OU.
“We are always hosting large events,” she said. “The Oakland University community pulled together to make this one a success.”
For more on the OU News Bureau coverage of the debate last November, CLICK HERE.
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