72 The History of Wake Forest
included Wake Forest in its list
of the sixteen best bargains for
higher education in the nation,
based on a tuition under $8,000
and admissions standards
among the highest 4 percent.
In any case, applications were
on the rise. In a March 23 letter
to William B. Sansom in Knox-
ville, Tennessee, Hearn wrote,
“Applications are up 50 percent
in the last four years,” and up
15 percent over the previous
year. For the 900 spaces in the
first-year class of 1988, there
were 6,000 applications.
A second significant rec-
ognition was the announce-
ment in May of 1988 that
Wake Forest had been chosen
to host the first presidential
debate on September 25, 1988.
The staging of the event would cast an unprecedented national spotlight on the
University. The idea was generated by three students who were members of the
Young Republicans: Mike Smith, Scott DuBois, and Beth Dawson. Smith, who was
Vice President of Student Government, had helped coordinate the campus visit of
New York Governor Mario Cuomo the year before and had enjoyed the experience
so much that he wanted to do more. When he learned that the Commission on
Presidential Debates was looking for venues, he persuaded his two friends to join
him in proposing Wake Forest.
The students shared their ambition with Director of Public Affairs Sandra Con-
nor. She phoned alumnus Al Hunt, a prominent Washington, D.C., journalist, who
knew Janet Brown, executive director of the newly formed Commission on Presiden-
tial Debates. He arranged for Ms. Connor and Mr. Smith to meet with her in April
1987, and she advised them on making a formal proposal. Starting in the summer of
1987, Smith worked tirelessly to raise awareness of Wake Forest’s desire to host the
debates. Through Norman Chambliss, the parent of two Wake Forest alumni, Smith
was invited to a reception for George H.W. Bush in eastern North Carolina and while
there asked Bush to pick Wake Forest as one of the debate sites. Finally, with the help
of Ms. Connor, the student trio assembled an application packet, and Smith made a
videotape about the University. They assured the commission that, if selected, Wake
Forest would implement an intense voter education program in the area. On October
26, 1987, President Hearn submitted a support letter to the Commission, and Wake
Forest was selected.
Amidst the joy, there was a sad transition. The elm trees on the main quad
between Wait Chapel and Reynolda Hall were cut down. They had graced the campus
Scott DuBois, Mike Smith, and Beth Dawson were
responsible for bringing the 1988 Presidential
Debate to Wake Forest
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