Episode 31: Debates, Flies, and Political Engagement at the University of Utah

 

Co-hosts Jon Fansmith, Mushtaq Gunja, and Sarah Spreitzer talk about higher education policy developments in the week before the election, including how work on the COVID-19 relief bill has ground to a halt and the Trump administration’s effort to curb international student visas. Later they are joined by Jason Perry of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, who talks about hosting the vice presidential debate earlier this month, getting students involved in the debate prep, and promoting student engagement during the pandemic.


Here are some of the links and references from this week’s show:

Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah ​

Pandemic-Theater Plexiglass Barrier Will Separate Both VP Candidates After All
New York Magazine | Oct. 7, 2020

Andrew Goodman Foundation

TurboVote

Pac 12 Voting Challenge

The National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement

From the introduction

ACE, Other Associations Ask DHS to Withdraw Flawed Duration of Status Proposed Rule

dotEDU Episode 30: What Higher Ed Needs to Know About the New Supreme Court​

Transcript

 Read this episode's transcript

Jon Fansmith: Welcome to dotEDU, the higher education policy podcast from the American Council on Education. I'm your host, Jon Fansmith, and in this episode, we'll continue our focus on the upcoming election and what it means for higher ed. We'll be talking with someone who had the national race come right onto their campus, and during a pandemic no less. As always, as usual, as always recently, I'm joined by my cohost, Sarah Spreitzer and Mushtaq Gunja. Hi, guys.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Jon.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Jon.

Sarah Spreitzer: Hey, Mushtaq.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hi, Sarah. How are you?

Sarah Spreitzer: I mean, pretty good. Jon is really tired of me talking about duration of status.

Jon Fansmith: So tired.

Sarah Spreitzer: But I actually submitted our comments yesterday. This is the proposed rule that would create a duration of admission for international students, and so would really change the fundamental nature of our student visas, and it's really, really problematic. So I had the pleasure of submitting our 11 pages of comments yesterday, so I'm pretty happy about that. And now I'm turning my attention to another interim final rule on visas for work authorizations or H1Bs. So that's been fun.

Jon Fansmith: And Mushtaq, you should realize, this is why we're all very happy to have Sarah on the team, so she has to deal with these kind of issues and the rest of us don't.

Mushtaq Gunja: Hey, Sarah. Boil down those 11 pages of comments to one paragraph. What are we saying?

Sarah Spreitzer: We are asking the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw the proposed rule which creates a new duration of admission. And that duration of admission would either be set at two years or four years, which is largely unworkable for the majority of our international students, who we know on average take over four years to complete a degree.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. I mean, our domestic students do as well, right? I mean, the time to degree is not two or four years. We know. I mean, that's like a... I mean, it would be great if our students were able to finish that quickly, but life intervenes for many of our students who are working part-time, some full-time while getting a degree. I mean, two and four years-

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: ... is a relic of the past.

Jon Fansmith: I think the average time to a BA is five years, right?

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And actually, we found that international students actually finish their degrees quicker than domestic students. So one of the jokes was maybe we should require domestic students to get visas also. But for the international students, I think that they're attracted to US higher education because of the ability to take classes outside of their major, to take on minors, to do dual degree programs that may take longer than four years. All the things that make US higher education more attractive, this would actually make it more difficult for international students to take advantage of that.

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, let's hope they reconsider.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. Fingers crossed. What are you working on, Jon?

Jon Fansmith: Oh, I am working on what I'm always working on, the groundhog's day of the supplemental.

Sarah Spreitzer: It's like infrastructure week.

Jon Fansmith: Every week is infrastructure week. Every week is supplemental week for the last 10 months. Yeah. I feel a little bit like a broken record, but this is... Every day, we have a new update that Speaker Pelosi and Secretary Mnuchin are chatting. They're talking. They're making progress. They're oh so close to having a deal, but somehow it never quite manifests. And we've now reached the point a week out from the election where just logistically, it's impossible to get a bill that will be written, be finalized, be brought to the floor, be passed in a vote by both chambers, and moved to the president. So it's really about what's going to happen after the election. There seems to be progress. Again, every day we learn about more progress and then we learn about new setbacks.

I think probably the biggest problem we have right now is that Speaker Pelosi has identified a national testing system as part of the bill that they don't have agreement on. And that was obviously not helped a whole lot by the president's chief of staff saying on some of these talk shows that they don't really plan to combat the pandemic at this point. So they're just trying to mitigate the impact. So obviously, those are two very, very different positions. Again, we've talked about this. It's funny to sort of joke about the political process and frankly, how in many ways, broken it is in this case, but we know institutions need at least $120 billion. We've been saying that for months now, and we're seven months removed from the last time the federal government gave any assistance to college and universities. So we hear from our members. We hear from the public. We know how bad it is. It's disappointing that we're just adding yet more delays to this process.

Sarah Spreitzer: And they've left town now. So really, there's nobody even left to work on a deal.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah.

Mushtaq Gunja: It was so jarring yesterday to see the Senate confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court and then basically, call it a day. I think if I'm right, Jon, you tell me if I'm wrong, that the Senate is sort of formally adjourned for a couple of weeks now, and in the midst of a pandemic where theoretically there are negotiations going on. I mean, for the Senate just not to be there and working, I don't know. It just strikes me as a very weird place for the country to be.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah. And striking and jarring I think are good terms because we saw the urgency to get the confirmation process done when simultaneously, Majority Leader McConnell is saying, "We won't consider a bill until after the election." Flatly said, "We're just not going to deal with that until later." Obviously people will debate, but one seems perhaps less urgent than the other in terms of the necessity of doing it now, so. But the House has been gone for weeks at this point. Everybody's campaigning. Everyone's focused on the election which is a week away and it's dominating attention. Obviously, we're going to have Jason Perry on to talk a little bit about their experience with the election up close on their campus. And I should say, Jason Perry is the Vice President for Government Relations and the Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, and he's going to be joining us to talk a little bit about the experience they had hosting a debate with a very prominent fly involved. So we'll all look forward to that conversation, but before we do, if you have thoughts or suggestions that you'd like to share with us, please email us at podcast@acenet.edu to write in, suggest topics, guests, offer what feedback you have, talk about how charming you find me. That's always welcome. And we'll be happy to feature any questions you might have in future episodes, if they're good enough, frankly. All right. So we're going to take a short break, and we'll be right back with Jason Perry.

And welcome back. We are joined by our guest today, Jason Perry, who is the Vice President for Government Relations and the Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah. Welcome, Jason. Thanks for joining us today.

Jason Perry: So glad to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Jon Fansmith: Yeah, it's great to have you. You have a very interesting story to tell, and we're looking forward to asking you some questions about your experience and Utah's experience with the recent debate, but before we do that, maybe set a little context. Tell me a little bit more about you and about the Hinckley Institute.

Jason Perry: Well, I'm the Director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, which is the premiere political science operation of the University of Utah, but we have two key missions. The first is, we are the internship operation of the university as well, placing interns all over the world, international, Washington DC, and of course, a lot of interns at home, somewhere between 3 and 400 interns a year everywhere, in every imaginable discipline and every kind of office. This is the place where the students come to get that experience that really changes their lives. Sometimes they figure out what they want to do in their lives, and sometimes they figure out what they don't want to do in their lives. These are all great things for us to teach these students about. That's our primary mission. The second part is that we make sure our students are informed. So three or four days out of every week, we have some of the best minds in the world coming to our campus to talk to our students about a broad range of topics, on all sides of these topics as well. Just make sure we have a broad range of views and opinions expressed so your students can listen and make up their own minds.

Jon Fansmith: That sounds like a pretty challenging place to be the director of. How did you wind up there at the Hinckley Institute? Where you always an academic? I mean, I've read your bio so I know, but maybe you could tell the folks listening a little bit more about your own journey to get there.

Jason Perry: Well, it's sort of an evolution of opportunity is what brought me here to the University of Utah. I'm a lawyer by training. I was a criminal prosecutor for quite a few years with our Attorney General's office and with the US Attorney's office from the state of Utah. I was prosecuting internet crimes for a very long time, and it's really, that is the opportunity where I got to learn about politics, where I got to learn that there's power in understanding what the levers of power are connected to. And when I was a brand new Attorney General, some people came to us and said, "Hey. We think there's crime. People are getting in chat rooms and they're doing things they shouldn't be doing, and there should be a law about that." So I sat down on my computer there as a brand new lawyer and I drafted the first enticing a minor over the internet statute in the state of Utah, and I presented it to the legislature, and I said, "I can't believe this happens. This should be a crime." And I got that legislation passed, signed by the governor, and the next week we started prosecuting cases. That's when I found out there's this great connection between the law and the legislature and politics, and you can use all of these things for a lot of good. And that's what got me involved in government. I ended up working for several governors. I ran the Economic Development Office, Chief of Staff to our current governor for a long time, and then here at the University of Utah doing the government work.

Jon Fansmith: Well, that is an impressive journey, I should say, and it's also... I'm always somewhat daunted talking to Mushtaq, who is a former prosecutor, and now I have two former prosecutors on, so I'm doubly daunted at this moment. I am a little curious. You talked first and foremost about the Hinckley Institute as the organizer, the coordinator for internships for students at the University of Utah. Obviously this is an unusual year in lots of ways, but in particular I'd imagine in terms of sending students out to internships. What does that process look like for Utah? How are you handling that? Is that still going on? Has that been suspended? What are you doing?

Jason Perry: It's still happening, but we've had to adapt in every imaginable way for these internships. Usually we have 20 or 30 interns out somewhere in the world in these host offices that we have been working with for 20 to 30 years where they just, every semester, they take some of our students. And of course, as we all know, we can't really travel internationally right now. A lot of these countries are not even letting people from the US into those countries. So we've had to adapt even there. We still have three to six at any given moment, interns internationally, but they're working from home. They're working for those host offices from here in the state of Utah. We have 13 interns in Washington DC working in offices that are just critical. They still have people working even in DC remotely, not in the offices. But one of the interesting things that's happened here in Utah is we have just under 100 interns involved in non-profits and in issues relating to COVID. That's what they're doing. They're doing contact tracing. So we're able to work... We're calling it the Hope Corps. We've trained 70 students to do contact tracing in the state of Utah, and these are our interns right now. They're actually helping us respond to this epidemic here in the state of Utah. And that's what we're doing right now. That's what's adapted for us the most. It used to be in all sorts of different kinds of offices, but right now, we're primarily aimed on helping the pandemic and the states' response.

Jon Fansmith: It's a great pivot in a way, to utilize the talents of those young people, and I know some of these people are in-person. Is the campus itself, is it fully open? Are you fully remote? Where is Utah right now in terms of students taking courses?

Jason Perry: University of Utah is in a hybrid model right now. We're about 20%, 21% in-class, in-person, and that really represents the classes you just have to do in-person. These are the labs that people have to do. These are students associated with our medical school and our hospital. So the classes that you absolutely have to do in-person, we are doing that right now. But the rest, we have just dramatically increased the number of classes going online. We have quite a few students on campus, even living in their dorms right now, but even mostly those students are doing their work remotely. We've had to adapt substantially there, but right now, it is really working for us at the University of Utah. We did something sort of novel. The first week of October and the week right before that, we instituted what we called a circuit breaker here at the University of Utah, where we went online entirely for one week, and this was the week before the vice presidential debate, which I hope we talk about a little bit too. But we put a two-week period of time where our students were entirely online. This was a chance for you not to be in big groups. This was a chance for if you're sick, we kind of get through that period of time. So it's just to do a hard reset from when the students came back. And that had a really great impact on the numbers of cases here campus, so we'd had a very low number.

But even then, we prepared for that by creating dorm rooms, sort of isolation rooms which we're calling them right now. So if someone tests positive, they're able to go onto one of these dorm rooms to wait for their two-week period of time. We've also done a lot of work on testing. For example, no student was able to come on campus and live in our dorms that hadn't tested negative. We tested every single student. We started testing the waste water coming out of the dorm and the facilities that students are in, and even now, just this week, we started implementing random COVID testing in places where it looks like we might be finding any kind of hotspots. All of that has helped us to be able to adapt and sort of react very quickly where we need to.

Sarah Spreitzer: So Jason, you talked a bit... You referenced the vice presidential debate which was just three weeks ago. It seems like it was a lifetime ago. And during a really contentious election, it seemed like it was very successful. And I think I read that it had the most viewers of any VP debate. It seemed to go off without a hitch.

Jason Perry: Well, except for the fly, it did go off without a hitch. I say that because-

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, I was going to get to that. Yeah.

Jason Perry: Yeah. I know. Feel free to ask all you want about the fly. But it was an amazing success for us here at the University of Utah, and you're right. A huge number of people from everywhere in the world were watching this debate. Partially it's because, at least in my opinion, the first presidential debate was a bit of a disaster. If you were looking for policy, didn't get it from anyone. So a lot of people were looking at the vice presidential debate as the one chance where they actually get to some of these issues from the people on the ticket, and people have been interested in the country and around the world in Senator Harris for sure, and also to see how Mike Pence was going to do on that national stage. And by every metric, this was a big success for the University of Utah, but I think also for the political process and political system itself where we got to see these candidates really get into some serious issues.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, can you talk a little bit about the process, kind of how the University of Utah decided that they wanted to sponsor a debate and kind of the process of working with the commission to submit an application and how you moved through that?

Jason Perry: Any university out there that's thinking about doing this, you got to be prepared because this is no small undertaking. The number of details involved, happy to talk about some of those. But you really got to think about the long-term strategy and the why, before you put in your bid for this. And this is kind of like... It's a lot different than Olympics, but it's like an Olympic bid process here where if you want to have one of these presidential debates, and there are three. So there are three presidential debates, and there's one vice presidential debate, and they say, "Hey, before you apply, just know you might not get the presidential debate. It could be the vice presidential debate." And you have to say, "Yes. We understand that's a possibility." And then you submit a bid packet, and it's a lot of questions about what the capabilities are of your university, your interest level. There's a video you put. You have to partner with your local visitors bureau. Ours is Visit Salt Lake, so we partnered with them, with our hotels, with our legislature, with our governor. We got involved with all the key stakeholders and said, "Is this something we want to do as a state?" Because this is a big undertaking. It's not cheap to do either, but the visibility, the long-term positives outweigh all those things. So when our legislature came forward and said, "Yes, we're very interested in you doing this," we partnered with the Utah debate commission. We all decided this was the right thing to do.

So together, we submitted a bid. And after the bid, which is so interesting, is the Commission on Presidential Debates... This is the group that oversees all of the debates. They are the group that has every bit of say about the where and what they do there. So they started visiting the key sites, the sites they thought they might like. They came to the University of Utah campus a couple of times and they went through our facilities. And when I say going through the facilities, every stairwell, every bathroom, every office, they want to see how you people get in and get out. And then above all, how do they keep it safe, not just from the health perspective which we had to work on too, but the Secret Service comes to every single meeting. They're working around the perimeter saying, "How do we keep this safe? What do we do in these buildings? Who’s going to be in these buildings?" And after they do this big complex formula, they identify the states and the facilities they think are going to be best, and we got the call, and they said, "You're going to get the vice-presidential debate." The first time this has happened in the state of Utah that we had any kind of debate like this, and I'll tell you, there was a moment, since I'm just being honest about it, it's like, well, it'd have been really nice to have what we thought was the big show, to get the presidential debate, but as it turns out, we got the one that everyone was interested in. We're thrilled about it.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's really great. When did you have to start the process? It's not like, I mean, you were a couple weeks out and you were like, "Hey, we should throw our hat in the ring." How far back did you have to start thinking about submitting an application?

Jason Perry: So it's a year and a half. That's how long it takes, and that's when they first came to visit us on campus. This was May of 2019 is when they came to our campus for that first visit. They did it all through June, and then they did not tell us until October of 2019. So we had six to eight months of preparing for these visits and for whether or not we wanted to get involved in it, and then we had one whole year to prepare.

Sarah Spreitzer: Well, you touched on logistics a bit. How much did COVID kind of change those logistics or change some of the plans?

Jason Perry: It changed everything. Every single aspect of this debate was changed by our planning for COVID-19. Normally when you have a debate like this, you would have 1,000 students engaged as volunteers. We had to move that down to 300. You normally have around 900 members of the press. They're in this big press tents, 900 of them, all together, all side by side, with their TV monitors doing the reporting. That got moved down to 200 members of the press. Usually you'd have what's called a spin ally. I don't know if you've seen that, but it's this great time. After the debate, every candidate comes out and they say, "Hey. I'm the one that won this debate. Did you not know that?" They mingle with the press. That got eliminated from the debate entirely. We had to scale down the people present.

But on top of that, we had to test for COVID-19 too. Not a single person was allowed inside the secure perimeter, or inside the venue, that had not tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours, which meant every time a member of the media arrived, had to be tested. They had to get a wristband. We had to follow to make sure all those protocols were done. They had to go into quarantine for 12 hours once they got here. Those are the kinds of things that changed substantially. But there were also some really positive things we were able to do on top of that too, is normally you would have viewing parties on campus. All the students get together, our big donors. We weren't able to have any of that, so we went virtual. We had virtual watch parties. We sent out viewing kits to all of our donors. 2,000 students got one of these boxes with bingo cards with words on it with a dauber. You could say, "Yeah. They said..." Well, we didn't use the word space force. We probably should've. But every other word that you might hear in a debate was on these bingo cards. Commemorative coins and pins and snacks to eat. So we did what we could to make sure the outreach was still there, even though in every way, we had to be careful of COVID. And if you want to get into some of those things, those are some tense negotiations with these campaigns about these protocols.

Sarah Spreitzer: Yeah. And I know you talked a bit before about the Hinckley Institute, that it's very student centered, and just when you were talking about community outreach, it seems that those are very student centered activities. Can you talk about how the University of Utah kind of planned this hosting around your students?

Jason Perry: Yeah. You're right. This was the primary reason why we submitted our bid in any event. This was going to be a student centric even in a way that we can get students involved in every part of it. In fact, that's one of the interesting things that we did, I think was maybe one of the big successes of this too, is we decided the president of the University, Ruth Watkins said, "Not a single person that is not a student is going to have a ticket to this debate." That's something unique. Usually this place is filled up with politicians, or donors. None of those people got to come in with tickets from the University of Utah. What we did is a drawing. So that's the first part here is we went out and said to students, "You've got one day to submit your name if you want to get one of these tickets to the vice presidential debate." We had 4,000 students within that period of time submit their names saying, "I'm going to be here on that day. I'm willing to go through all the protocols to be safe. I'm in." And then we submitted all those names to the registers office. We went through and first verified that these were only students that have applied to get a ticket. And then they randomly selected 300 of those students to be... These are our final group. Because that's the interesting thing about these debates is you don't know how many tickets you're going to get until the day or two before because with COVID, we said, "How do we make sure everyone's six feet apart? How do we make sure everyone's tested?" And after they do all this, they say, you get 90 tickets for students.

That's how many the University of Utah was able to get. President Watkins gave her ticket to a student already. So once we found out how many tickets we were going to get, we had a drawing. And the president said, "Number 24," because every student was given a number because we don't want everyone to know who the students are. "So number 24, you're one of the winners. You've got four hours to let us know you're going to accept this ticket, go get tested for COVID at the stadium, and just show up tomorrow." So that's one of the great ways we got students involved, and there was a lot of excitement particularly since this is a ticket you can't buy. This is a ticket that you don't just get for just being someone important. This is for you, for the students. That was a huge success. But also, we spent a lot of time preparing our students, our volunteers. We had forums talking about civil dialogue, about the political process, about how candidates are elected, about the importance of the vice president in our political system. We spent a lot of time preparing our students. I have to say, even though we had to scale back in terms of numbers, the impact was substantial.

Sarah Spreitzer: And was there any concern about protest activity?

Jason Perry: Oh yeah. We thought about that every day. That's something that was on the mind of the Secret Service, and I'm talking like every level of law enforcement. We had Secret Service, Homeland Security, the Utah Highway Patrol, Salt Lake City Police Department, and our own University police department. We met every single day, particularly towards the end talking about all the protocols we need to put in place for protestors because of course, we knew we were going to have them, and they have a right of course, to come out and have their opinion. But it's interesting how they secure the perimeter. We had to put up around the designated space, what is called unscaleable fence. Unscaleable fence. Some people may think that's a challenge. I didn't take that challenge but it's pretty serious fence. But we set up speak zones all around in places where they were close enough to be able to see the venue, where they could be heard, where they could feel like their voices were being able to be heard in some way. And we set up places on campus where those protestors could be. So we thought a lot about how to keep them safe, but we also thought about how to keep everyone else safe. And it worked out, I'll just tell you, perfectly. There was one arrest. There was a misdemeanor. One person got a little too carried away, but this was a very peaceful protest from people on both sides of the aisle.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's great. I'd like to look into that unscaleable fence for my children.

Jason Perry: Yes.

Sarah Spreitzer: Think about putting it up around their rooms. So was there anything unexpected? I mean, by all accounts, it was a great success. I watched it. It was wonderful. Beyond the fly of course, the famous fly, were there any hiccups or anything unexpected?

Jason Perry: Well, because of COVID-19, there were a couple things that became sources of, I don't know, contention, discussion, and that was really in the last day and a half. It was whether or not we should put up a plexiglass barrier between the two candidates. That was a really interesting conversation to be in because numbers were going up in Utah and other places. The President of the United States was diagnosed with COVID. So there was a lot of concern from these candidates about what to do there. And that was one of the very interesting things that happened at the very last minute. Of course, as you read in the papers if people were following this, the two campaigns were not necessarily in alignment on whether or not they should have those barriers up. In the end, the Commission on Presidential Debates said, "We're putting them up. So there's no more discussion. We don't need agreement from the two campaigns. We're just doing it." And so, that was an interesting last minute additional and dialogue, but most of the things are really prescribed. I mean, the things that have happened from all the debates from the beginning of time just going into the planning of these events, I mean, right down to...

I'll tell you what people might not know. There are issues you have to think about like even there has to be a separate vent over each candidate because we don't want the candidates to be sweating. So there are things like this. So it has to be 65 degrees, so it has to be in a place where the candidates are comfortable and where we have members of the press in there inside this place that's cool. So there's a lot issues that are thought about ahead of time, and people often asked me as we got ready to go into this, did you have to change your plans a lot? And the reality is because of the great planning of the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Secret Service and others, everyone starts with the worst case scenarios. They plan for everything. So by the time you get there, there's not a lot left to chance, except for the fly.

Sarah Spreitzer: That's great. Well, obviously the debates are just one part of the election cycle, and I think Mushtaq's going to talk about your efforts to get out to vote and working with your students in the election.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah, Jason. I'd love to switch topics to that, if you don't mind? So it sounds like you have quite a few students still on campus. I know the fall of a presidential year is usually a time of great excitement, a time when you register students to vote. Students are registered to vote, a lot of excitement around Election Day. What's the campus like right now in terms of sort of election excitement around politics?

Jason Perry: Even though we don't have a lot of students on campus, the excitement is high. Our students are the... They're just really engaged. They're voting already. They're calling us asking questions. They're interviewing the candidates. I personally interviewed most of the candidates that are at the top of ticket, both sides, with our students present and submitting questions for them. But what we've been spending the most time on is working on getting our students registered to vote from wherever they live. And so we spent a lot of time working on that and we've had great success. We partnered with a couple groups that are important. The Andrew Goodman Foundation for example, is one of those organizations that we have partnered with. There's 60 other schools that do this, but they actually select three ambassadors on our campus with some money attached to it saying, "This is to help with the get out to vote, to get students informed and engaged in the process."

We also signed up with a group called TurboVote which is an organization which selects students no matter where you are, where you live, we're going to help you register to vote from your state and to vote in whatever that state is. We spent a lot of time. We had thousands of students, a couple thousand students register to vote because of these efforts. And of course one thing we did that I thought was good is we actually went all in, the PAC-12 voting challenge. President Watkins joined with the Chancellor of UC Berkeley. We called it on. Whether we were going to win in football or not, whether we have football or not, we're going to win this one, the voting challenge. So the PAC-12, the number of students we can get to register to vote is on. It's something we're pushing as well.

Mushtaq Gunja: That's great. Yeah, I know other conferences have participated in that All In Challenge too. Did you participate in 2018? Who won the PAC-12 All In Challenge in 2018?

Jason Perry: So this is the first time the PAC-12 has done this. It was the Big-10, other groups have been doing this, so we're following them a little bit. So the question next time we do this podcast is how did the U manage to win it this time?

Mushtaq Gunja: Well, we will definitely come back and ask you if you end up succeeding, Jason. Can you tell me a little bit about Election Day on campus? Are folks going to be voting on campus? I believe in Utah, every registered voter has been mailed a ballot, but I know that there's also in-person voting. What's the experience like?

Jason Perry: Yeah. You're right. So every registered voter has received a ballot, and a lot of them are turning them in. Utah's been doing mail-in balloting for quite a while, so even as you hear about concerns around the country, it has not been a concern in Utah. This is roughly 70 to 80% of Utahans that regularly vote have cast their ballots in the past by mail-in balloting. But you're right as well. There are students from other states and there are students even here in Utah that for whatever reason, they decided they want to cast their ballot in person. So we actually worked with the Salt Lake County Clerk and have a polling location here on campus. All kinds of protocols put in place. Everyone's wearing a mask. Everyone's six feet apart. Hand sanitizer everywhere. But we've gone through that effort with our clerk to make sure our students have a place on campus where they don't have to go very far to make sure they're able to vote on that day.

Mushtaq Gunja: Jason, that's great. I mean, so many college officials that I speak with have tried to get voting locations on campus and have been unsuccessful. Do you have advice for them on how you were able to work with the clerk’s office to be able to make that happen?

Jason Perry: We did a couple of things, and it's true. There's extra cost for these clerks sometimes. There's more logistics that they have to work through. So sometimes in government, the first reaction is just no. It's not worth the hassle. But we did a couple of things. One is we cultivated a relationship with that county clerk, and it does need to be with that clerk. Wherever we are in the country, that's just the person. They hold all the cards in that particular decision, so you work there. But we did the next thing which is most important. It wasn't just us. We took our students, our student government and others, and we put them on this task. Our student government worked with us at Hinckley Institute of Politics and went to our county clerk and said... We just made the case. This is not just for the University of Utah. I know it's a little bit of extra work to get this done, but this is about engaging our students. This is about getting them engaged for life. And our students went in. I'll tell you, once they go in there and say, "Hey. This is important to us," that's going to happen. And it did. And we've been able to do that for the last two election cycles.

Mushtaq Gunja: Oh, that's great. And is Utah a state where there is same-day registration that you can register all the way up till Election Day?

Jason Perry: Yes. Yes, you can. So we'll still see a bit of that on that day.

Mushtaq Gunja: Yeah. It will make it easier for you to win this All In Challenge. I'm rooting for you.

Jason Perry: It's true. Although anyone from Utah listening, you still have to mail in your ballot the day before. Post marked the day before if you want it counted. So there's my public service announcement.

Mushtaq Gunja: Good. Hey Jason, have you done much planning for the day after Election Day for sort of the conversations that you're likely to have to have, depending on sort of the outcome of the election?

Jason Perry: Yeah. It's such an insightful question because that is what we're talking about on campus right now is people are on both sides of this one, and the reality is, there's going to be a segment of our student population that is not going to be happy necessarily with it, whatever that outcome is. And so we've spending a lot of time thinking about how to engaged those students. We've done a couple of things. One is we have several different forums. We have maybe eight of these arranged where our students will participate virtually in conversations about the election itself, about the outcome, about the next steps for this administration, whoever it is that wins this election. That's part of it.

We've also arranged several places on campus where students can come just talk about the process itself, just with people who know the system but know about working through just whatever, from the feelings about it to the practical implications of who wins. So those emails have been sent out as part of our weekly newsletter too that is going out to all the students, just saying, "If you want to talk about it, these are the resources on campus. So whether you're thrilled about it, whether you're not thrilled about it, we just want to be able to help you process what just happened." Because in my mind, there's those moments where some students may be really upset about the outcome, but in my mind, we have to talk enough about it that these students don't disengage, that the outrage or the disappointment doesn't make them feel like the political process doesn't work or that it's not something worth engaging in because it is. Even if you lose today, doesn't mean you have to like it. You have to engage in it tomorrow.

Mushtaq Gunja: Jason, are those messages coming from the Hinckley Institute, from your Dean of Students, from both?

Jason Perry: All of the above, but also from our president. So our president, Ruth Watkins, has been... She's the one that's been putting all these resources together. She's the one that has in each of our cabinet meetings, this discussion about how we're going to stay connected to the students. She has engaged our Dean of Students to help work with those individual departments and to work on the ability to publicize those. And so those emails are going out. Everywhere we're going, we're talking about them. They're on our websites. We're doing all we can to make sure our students are aware of places they can go.

Mushtaq Gunja: That's great. Hey Jason, can I change the subject one more time and maybe nerd out with you for a second?

Jason Perry: I love it.

Mushtaq Gunja: About Congressional politics. So for my money, one of the most interesting house races this year is in Utah, the Ben McAdams, Burgess Owens race. Am I saying Burgess right? I think I-

Jason Perry: Yeah, you're right.

Mushtaq Gunja: So this is the seat that was held by Mia Love, I think from 2014 to 2018. If I remember correctly, I think McAdams won the seat in the '18 election by 700 votes or so. I think it was the closest race in the country, and it looks like it's shaping up to be close again. What's your take on the race? Where does it stand?

Jason Perry: Well, you're very well informed on Utah politics, and you're right on. So we had Mia Love in this district and this district was created..well, 2012 is when we had a population increase, got that important congressional seat. And it is the most competitive district that we have in the state. It may end up being maybe the only competitive race, but it is neck-and-neck, a statistical tie right now according to all the polling. And what's interesting in Utah right now, and it's the interesting part of politics too, is you cannot turn on a TV or a radio or even go to newspapers online without an ad. And these are not ads, the positive kind. These are some of the most negative ads that you can possibly find. And these are not necessarily from the candidates either. We're seeing an enormous amount of outside money. Just about 10, $10.2 million has flowed into the state of Utah just on negative ads on these two candidates, which is so interesting because Ben McAdams barely won this race, as you said. It was right around 700 votes. And so the country is really watching this one to see if it can flip back.

This district leans Republican, as Utah tends to do, but what's interesting in this district, since we're kind of nerding out about it is, it's not enough for you just to be a Republican or a Democrat. There's a formula for the fourth congressional district in Utah. You have to take all of your own party, and Ben McAdams has most of his. Burgess Owens has most of his on the Republican side. But you have to get a very small percentage of the other party, but it's the unaffiliated voters that are going to decide this election for Utah's fourth congressional seat. And I couldn't even give you a call right now. It is that close.

Jon Fansmith: Are you a little biased towards Ben McAdams as a Hinckley alum?

Jason Perry: Boy, you do your research. Of course, I take no sides. That's the key in politics-

Jon Fansmith: Well said. Well said.

Jason Perry: We're completely non-partisan except I do love the fact that as former Hinckley intern, Ben McAdams has stayed engaged. So at least he is following that.

Jon Fansmith: An example of what you teach, right? Yeah.

Jason Perry: Yeah. That is true. So of course, we're completely non-partisan, but this is just such a close race and you're so right about it, and this is going to have an impact in Washington DC in some respects. And I think that it shows kind of the Utah way. This is something we talk about it Utah a bit as well is how is anyone really taking interest in Utah? But the reality is, most of these presidential candidates spend time in Utah now. We're no longer the flyover state that we were for so many years. There's a way to our politics that seems to get lots of people involved and interested. Mitt Romney has been one of those candidates here in the state that when he says something here in Park City, Utah, the president responds to it in Washington DC. It's just one of those interesting dynamics that's happening in the state and I think that's a little bit why your great questions about the fourth congressional district are important.

Jon Fansmith: Well, Jason, we want to thank you very much. This has been a great conversation. And obviously, we all appreciate the exceptional event you and the University of Utah put on at the debate and clearly, from the conversation, we'll also be very closely following some other developments in Utah as the election approaches. But once again, thank you so much. Really enjoyed the conversation.

Mushtaq Gunja: Thanks, Jason. It was a real pleasure.

Sarah Spreitzer: It was great, Jason. It gives us a lot to think of a week before the election.

Jason Perry: Well, glad to be with you all. Thank you.

Jon Fansmith: To listen to earlier episodes and subscribe to dotEDU, you can find us on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, Google Podcast, and wherever you get your podcasts. For show notes and links to resources mentioned in the episode, you can go to our website at acenet.edu/podcast, and you can also use our email, podcast@acenet.edu for suggestions for upcoming shows, or guests you'd like to see, or just thoughts on how we're doing. Before we go, I'd like to thank Carly O'Connell, Laurie Arnston, Audrey Hamilton and Malcolm Moore who are the exceptional producers of dotEDU and make us sound as good as we do every episode. And finally, I'd like to thank you for listening.

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​Each episode of dotEDU presents a deep dive into a major policy issue impacting college campuses and students across the country. Hosts from ACE are joined by guest experts to lead you through thought-provoking conversations on topics such as campus free speech, diversity in admissions, college costs and affordability, and more. Find all episodes of the podcast at the dotEDU page​.

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