LOCAL FOLKS: Ole Miss administrator consults on 2012 debates

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – Andy Mullins is a political insider, a historian/author, professor and administrator.
Having spearheaded the securing and organizing of the University of Mississippi’s 2008 Presidential Debate effort, he can add debate consultant to his resume.
Mullins, chief of staff to the chancellor, came to prominence as one of then-Gov. William Winter’s “Boys of Spring,” helping pass one of Mississippi’s most significant education reform efforts in 1982. He recently spoke to representatives of institutions chosen by the Commission on Presidential Debates to host next year’s presidential debates.
“The commission asked me to share the University of Mississippi’s experience in hosting the 2008 presidential debate,” Mullins said. “I spent half a day with them going over the dos and don’ts of hosting the debate. I also showed them our debate documentary film.”
The 2012 debate hosts are Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.; Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.; the University of Denver in Colorado and Centre College in Danville, Ky.
When Ole Miss hosted the first official presidential debate in 2008, it contrasted with the 1962 riots over the university’s integration that had last thrust it into the national spotlight. The 2008 debate featured now-President Barack Obama, the first black presidential candidate on a major-party ticket, along with Sen. John McCain. The event drew copious praise for the institution.
Mullins encouraged the 2012 host institutions to involve their students, encourage donations to offset the costs, trust the expertise of both the Commission and the U.S. Secret Service and to make the most of the media attention.
“Such an event can change the history of your campus, as it did ours,” he said.
He added that though Ole Miss may someday seek to host another presidential debate, the present difficult economy made investing the $4-5 million cost inadvisable.
“It was a tremendous event for both the University of Mississippi and the state of Mississippi, but we just couldn’t justify that when the faculty hadn’t had a substantial raise in several years,” Mullins said.
He quashed one common belief that security for a sitting President’s involvement would have required a weeklong virtual shutdown of the campus and much of the city.
“The Secret Service has gotten so sophisticated, they don’t have to do that anymore,” Mullins said.
errol.castens@journalinc.com