Former University President Shirley Tilghman, University trustee Charlie Gibson ’65 and current Purdue University President Mitch Daniels ’71 were recently elected directors to the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Their addition brings the total number of Princeton-affiliated directors on the commission to six.
Co-chair of the commission Mike McCurry ’76 and former Senator Jack Danforth ’58 are also directors on the commission. In addition, Director and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars and parent of ’97 Jane Harman was also recently elected to the commission.
The CPD organizes the presidential and vice presidential debates during election season.
“It’s mostly a coincidence that we have so many Princeton people nominated to serve, but I think it’s also true that Princeton people tend to put themselves in situations where they can make a difference,” McCurry said.
Echoing McCurry’s point, Daniels also referred to the simultaneous involvement of several University-affiliated individuals with the commission as a “fun coincidence.”
“We were told to go forth in the nation’s service, and this is one form,” Daniels said in an interview.
McCurry explained that the commission primarily focuses on designing the format of the debates, selecting the timing and picking the location as well as the moderator. The topics and questions posed at the debates, however, are at the discretion of the moderator, and the commission is not involved in designing or determining them.
Directors are elected after the commission’s nominating committee screens potential candidates that they believe could make a valuable contribution to the commission, McCurry explained. The Commission on Presidential Debates’ website states that directors are nominated for their contributions to civic service and education.
However, McCurry also said that more broadly, the nominating committee searches for individuals who can determine what the country needs for a spirited debate at the presidential and vice presidential level.
“It very much fits with the whole ‘Princeton in the nation’s service’ concept,” he said.
Familiarity among alumni might also be a factor contributing to the current involvement of several University-affiliated individuals on the commission, McCurry said. For example, McCurry noted that when Tilghman’s name was proposed, existing University alumni on the commission thought her involvement would be extraordinary.
Tilghman could not be reached for comment.
McCurry said the directors recently named to the commission who are not affiliated with the University, including Chairman of the Panetta Institute for Public Policy Leon Panetta and former Senator Olympia Snowe, also have distinguished records in public service.
And though several of the commission’s directors are former politicians, they represent a mix of views, and there are also several non-partisan members, McCurry added.
Daniels, Harman and Danforth are all former politicians, while McCurry was involved in Clinton’s administration as press secretary.
Daniels said his office as president of Purdue requires an oath of “political celibacy,” which he intends to extend to the commission as a “neutral” contributor. He was formerly governor of Indiana.
The purpose of the commission from his standpoint, he added, is to serve the public’s interest by ensuring that voters are informed.
Harman and Danforth did not respond to requests for comment. Gibson was unavailable for comment.