Debate Fever on Campus Helps Lift Hofstra’s Image

Ann McClure's picture

David Zuniga, 21, is just the kind of student Hofstra University is looking for. A senior from West Palm Beach, Fla., with a mania for politics, Mr. Zuniga was deciding where to apply to college when he watched the presidential debate between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama at Hofstra in 2008.

Two years later, he was elected the chairman of Hofstra’s College Republicans. The year after, he became president of the student body. And this year, with Hofstra hosting another presidential debate on Tuesday, Mr. Zuniga is organizing viewing parties and debating Young Democrats as a member of the university’s Debate 2012 committee.

“Four years later — so far, it’s been worth it,” Mr. Zuniga said, grinning, in the student center last week. Nearby, Hofstra’s Young Democrats were handing out voter registration forms, a cardboard cutout of President Obama standing guard. Near the doors, a group of students and staff members from Hofstra’s Hillel center broke out into “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Debate fever has come to Hofstra once again, this time sweeping up many students who first heard of the university when it played host to the 2008 debate. For university leaders, that is the point: hoping to elevate Hofstra’s reputation from a Long Island commuter school to a nationally recognized institution, they have invested millions in the two presidential debates and a 2010 debate in the governor’s race to gain exposure, attract applicants from outside New York, New Jersey and Connecticut and energize donors and students.

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