University of Virginia Refuses Obama Visit Request
UVA says a presidential visit isn't worth the hassle or expense. They're right.
President Obama wanted to speak at the University of Virginia on a campaign swing through Charlottesville. UVA said no.
NBC29 (“UVA Declines Obama Campaign Request“):
A University of Virginia spokeswoman says President Barack Obama will not be at the university when he comes to Charlottesville on Wednesday. In a statement released Friday, it was confirmed that the university declined the president’s request to speak at UVA.
UVA says the Obama campaign requested the use of one of two outdoor venues – the Amphitheater or the Harrison-Small Library plaza. The university declined the request for a number of reasons including class cancellations, which UVA estimates could be more than 186 classes on the second day of school. The other main reason is they would have to take on the full cost of security, and because of university policy and their federal and state tax exempt status, they would have to offer the same opportunity to the other candidate so as not to show favor for either candidate.
Virginia’s top Democrat is playing down the snub. While stopping in Albemarle County, Virginia Democratic Party Chairman Brian Moran told NBC29, “We’re proud that he’s coming. We’re very excited that he’s coming to Charlottesville, regardless of where in Charlottesville. Charlottesville is known for the University of Virginia, so I don’t think that’s going to be missed on anyone.”
Other than the denied request from the university, questions still remain about the where and when of the event.
The report includes this statement from a university spokesman:
I am writing to tell you that the University met with five members of the Obama Presidential Campaign on Wednesday. The campaign requested the use of one of two outdoor University venues — the Amphitheater or the Harrison-Small Library plaza. After reviewing the campaign’s request for either of these two sites and the impact on the University, the University declined the request for the following reasons:
- As you know, Aug. 29 is the second day of classes overall and the first day of classes on the Monday/Wednesday/Friday academic schedule.
- The use of either of the desired sites would require closing buildings adjacent to the sites for the entire day.
- The cancellation of 186 classes would occur if the site is the Amphitheater or closing of the libraries and Newcomb dining if the site is the Harrison-Small plaza. This would result in an extraordinary disruption of the second day of the new semester.
- In addition to the disruption to classes, the University would have to bear the full cost of security — a substantial and open-ended expenditure of staff time and money.
- By University policy, we would also have to offer the same accommodations and bear the same costs for other candidates. Both our federal and state tax-exempt status requires that we not favor any candidate.
- The Secret Service will have final approval on the site chosen and will dictate the security requirements, but at a minimum the buildings adjacent to the event venue would need to be closed on Aug. 29. Adjacent buildings will be searched and secured with officers posted in each starting at least 6 hours prior to the event.
Additional details: The use of McIntire Amphitheater would require the closing of the following buildings on Aug. 29: Bryan Hall, Cocke Hall, Garrett Hall, Minor Hall, and possibly Maury Monroe halls. The parking lots behind Bryan and Clark would have to be closed for the day, as well as a portion of McCormick Road.
The use of the Harrison-Small Special Collections Library would require the closing of the Alderman Library, Special Collections Library, the temporary dining facility, Peabody Hall, and possibly Monroe Hall, the rooms along the West Range and a portion of McCormick Road.
While my initial reaction to the headline was credulous—Why would a university possibly not want the President of the United States on its campus? Don’t they realize this is a unique opportunity for their students, many of whom may never otherwise get to see any president, much less this one, in person?—the decision actually makes a great deal of sense. It would be one thing if Obama were an invited speaker at graduation or the evening. But it would indeed be highly disruptive to close half the campus on the first day of class for all the MWF courses. And, even at an elite school like UVA, which presumably has an easier time of raising alumni funds than lesser state schools, the expenses of presidential security are hard to justify to accommodate a campaign swing.
So, instead of writing to chastise UVA officials for a boneheaded decision, let me instead reiterate a favorite hobby horse: The level of security surrounding the president and other American politicians is absurd. Yes, there have been attempts to kill presidents in the past; some successful. Yes, the murder of a president is a national tragedy of unique impact. And, yes, Obama is particularly at risk given the animus directed at his race and heritage. Still, there has to be a way to provide him with a reasonable level of security without disrupting the lives of everyone in a ten mile radius.