Wright State to keep state money, despite dropping debate

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Produced by Lynn Hulsey

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Wright State University still doesn’t know how much of the $2 million paid to the Commission on Presidential Debates will be refunded now that the university is no longer hosting the Sept. 26 debate, according to Seth Bauguess, WSU spokesman.

“At the conclusion of the 2016 debates the Commission on Presidential Debates has agreed to review its records and determine what amount, if any, of Wright State’s financial contribution can be refunded,” Bauguess said.

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The money paid to the commission by each host university covers for the commission’s costs to stage debates. There are three presidential and one vice presidential General Election debates this year.

Wright State spent $2.5 million on the debate. Bauguess said officials are still finalizing cost figures as Wright State unwinds debate preparations and determines how much of the cost can be covered with nearly $2 million in cash and pledges it received.

“No one who has given cash has asked for it back,” Bauguess said. “(WSU President David Hopkins) said that some pledges that we received might not come in.”

The university will not have to return a $220,000 cybersecurity grant from the state. Attacks on WSU’s computer network began as soon as the debate commission in September announced Wright State had been chosen, Bauguess said.

“It could only be spent on cybersecurity and we spent it on cybersecurity and they’re not asking for it back,” said Bauguess. “There is a lasting value to our network with or without the debate.”

Wright State has ended a special $5,000 monthly stipend for Robert J. Sweeney, vice president for planning, to do debate preparations, and given the contractually-required 60-day notice to two consultants hired for debate work, Bauguess said.

Sweeney’s stipend was was to be paid in monthly installments under a one-year contract signed last October. Instead, the payments stopped at the end of July.

Steven Warden and John McCance were brought in on one-year contracts in January, with Warden contracted to be paid $80,000 for the year, plus a car allowance, to serve as corporate and community giving officer. McCance was hired for $108,000 annually to act as liaison with the debate commission. Both of their contracts now end Sept. 21 and Bauguess said they will not be assigned to do new work through then.

University President David Hopkins announced on July 19 that Wright State would withdraw as host because of rising costs and the inability to raise enough money to avoid using university resources to cover costs. Debate cost estimates ranged from $5 million to $8 million, but he said concerns about protecting campus areas outside the debate perimeter around the Nutter Center could drive costs as high as $11 million.

That figure is far higher than what debates have cost other universities that have hosted debates and also much more than the four that will host this year's expect to pay, according to an investigation by this newspaper.

Hofstra University in New York replaces Wright State as the debate host. A group of 15 Wright State students will attend the Hofstra debate.