Final Presidential Debate May Play a Role in UNLV’s Climb to Tier 1

For those who wonder how preparations are going at UNLV for the third and final debate on October 19, look no further than the shipping containers that now line the parking lots around Thomas & Mack. They’re just one of the many indicators that the university is serious about ramping up security, namely in the form of canceled classes, traffic impacts and shuttles from satellite parking at the airport that will transport students and faculty to campus. Yet this historic event, happening just three weeks away from the end of the most bizarre election cycle we’ve ever seen, may just play a role in accelerating UNLV toward Tier 1 status.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to showcase the fact that we’re a global city,” says Carl Reiber, senior vice provost at UNLV. “We’re a university of the 21st century that is among the top major research institutions, so we want to make sure that the media gets to see UNLV at its fullest, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them.”

Reiber estimates that about 5,000 credentialed media professionals will descend upon UNLV to talk to students and faculty with expertise in debate-related topics. CNN, MSNBC and Bloomberg sets will be on campus for live broadcasting, and many of the approximately 1,000 student volunteers working the debate will be paired with reporters to learn more about the media’s role in the political process.

“The debate has really captured the campus in a way that I just haven’t seen,” Reiber says. “I’ve been at UNLV for 24 years, and it’s really drawn focus to our campus in such a way that the students are excited, engaged and working hard to better educate themselves and our community.”

What really has the campus talking is who will get to attend what may be one of the most watched debates ever. While Thomas & Mack holds 18,500 people, only about 900 will be in attendance. These tickets are mostly distributed among party lines and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, but UNLV does get a small parcel of tickets that will be doled out to approximately 75 randomly selected students from a lottery pool of about 3,000.

The focus isn’t solely on media attention or recent celebrity guests who popped up on campus to get students involved in the political process (such as Chrissy Teigen and John Legend), but it has influenced a great deal of the institution’s educational aims. UNLV has voter registration booths, viewing parties, courses focused on the debate and a lecture series of distinguished speakers to discuss the issues.

“There has been more media attention shone on UNLV for the debate. [We haven’t seen this] since the basketball championships of the ’90s,” says Reiber. “It fits right in with our top-tier move. UNLV is a nationally engaged research university of quality that’s diverse and daring. We’re working on projects that impact not only Las Vegas, but cities that will grow into what Las Vegas is now, which is a diverse, cosmopolitan, global community. This is going to impact UNLV for years to come in a very positive way.”