By: Kevin Kaminski and Marie Speed

On Oct. 22, an estimated 60 million viewers are expected to tune in for the final debate between President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Whether either candidate can produce a signature sound bite remains to be seen. But this much we already know to be true about the college and town hosting the event.

It’s a defining moment for Lynn University and Boca Raton.

In the last year alone, Lynn has raised millions of dollars to cover debate-related expenses, changed its physical landscape to accommodate the thousands of participants and press invading its campus, and drafted an elaborate battle plan to ensure that it all can be accomplished. There have been countless meetings, highly classified Secret Service mandates, and the detailed design of a “debate city” on a campus that has never hosted anything approaching the scope and scale of such a spectacle.

But the seemingly unrelated series of events that led to such debate fever started long before university administration even considered it. In fact, the ultimate dialogue between two presidential contenders can be traced to another kind of dialogue, in a symmetry that Lynn president Kevin Ross can’t help but recognize.

 “Conversations have always been important to us,” he says.

So important that the university—led by Cynthia Patterson, vice president for academic affairs—introduced a revamped core curriculum in fall 2008 that fosters discussion, public speaking, critical thinking and curiosity regarding fundamental life questions. Lynn’s “Dialogues of Learning” examines those questions and prepares students for 21st-century challenges through seminars, small Socratic method classes (linked to a student’s major) and experiential learning. The core curriculum not only has drawn raves from the educational community, it’s opened up a world of ideas for students and faculty at Lynn.

With this new curriculum, a detailed strategic plan (Lynn 2020) and the completion of the dazzling Keith C. and Elaine Wold Center for the Performing Arts, all systems aligned for the university to think about hosting another kind of conversation—one that, since 1960, has been a cornerstone of the presidential election process in the United States.

Here’s how Lynn arrived at this moment—and here’s what to expect leading up to and including the night of the debate.

Debate Timeline

Here are the key moments leading up to Lynn’s selection as a 2012 debate host.

 July 1, 2006: Kevin M. Ross takes office as Lynn University’s fifth president, succeeding his father, Donald E. Ross, who retired after serving the university for 35 years.

May 2007: Announcement of Elaine Wold’s gift of $6 million through her foundation toward construction of the Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center.

August 2008: Lynn transforms its curriculum into the “Dialogues of Learning” model.

March 2010: The Keith C. and Elaine Johnson Wold Performing Arts Center opens.

October 2010: Lynn University is considered, but ultimately not chosen, to host the debate between gubernatorial candidates Alex Sink and Rick Scott.

Oct. 12, 2010: A Congressional District 22 debate is held at Lynn in cooperation with theSun-Sentinelbetween then-incumbent Ron Klein and challenger Allen West. 

Dec. 10, 2010: Lynn’s master plan, including breakdowns for future growth and site utility, as well as a transportation analysis and sustainability study, is approved by the City of Boca Raton. (Note: Detailed knowledge of the campus is a key component of the debate application process.) 

Jan. 3, 2011: Lynn assembles a team to complete the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) application; the university is one of 40 institutions nationally to express interest in hosting a 2012 presidential debate.

March 31, 2011: Lynn submits the CPD application.

April 2011: Lynn is one of 12 finalists, joining Belmont University (Nashville, Tenn.); Centre College (Danville, Ky.); Dominican University of California (San Rafael, Calif.); Eastern Kentucky University (Richmond, Ky.); Hofstra University (Hempstead, N.Y.); Indiana University (Bloomington, Ind.); Saint Mary’s College of California (Moraga, Calif.); The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (Pomona, N.J.); University of Denver (Colorado); Wake Forest University (Winston-Salem, N.C.); Washington University in St. Louis (Missouri).

May 4, 2011: Four CPD staff members visit Lynn and meet with administrators and community leaders, including county commissioner Steve Abrams, Boca Raton mayor Susan Whelchel, Palm Beach County Schools police chief Jim Kelly, Boca Raton police captain Coy Dixon and Boca Raton assistant fire chief David Woodside.

May 23, 2011: Ross and his chief of staff, Jason Walton, travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with Janet Brown, CPD executive director, and discuss why Lynn is the ideal debate host site.

Oct. 17, 2011: A special meeting of the Lynn Board of Trustees at the offices of Osborne & Osborne, P.A. secures final authorization to enter into a countersigned agreement if Lynn is selected as a host site.

Oct. 20, 2011: Ross and Walton open an overnight package from the CPD and learn that Lynn has been selected as the site for the fourth and final presidential debate—Oct. 22, 2012. They are asked to embargo the information until otherwise notified.

Oct. 31, 2011:The CPD announces the four colleges that will host the 2012 presidential debates. Former White House press secretary (under Bill Clinton) Mike McCurry calls Ross the same day and says, “Mr. President, what are you going to be doing Oct. 22?” To which Ross replies: “Sitting next to you, sir!” Lynn releases a statement announcing its selection as a host site. 

Nov. 1, 2011: During Lynn’s annual Founders Day celebration, Ross shares the exciting news in person with students, faculty and staff. The following day, Lynn holds a press conference with community leaders at the Wold Center.

To read more, pick up a copy of our September/October issue.