With 26,000 other Madison residents, I waited in line yesterday to see Obama speak on UW-Madison’s campus. It is the first time in 60 years that a sitting president has spoken on campus, although we’ve had our share of presidential hopefuls and former presidents.
It’s interesting that the University of Wisconsin-Madison apparently didn’t immediately say “yes” to the opportunity. And certainly, the logistics of the event were difficult. The campus attempted to minimize the impact to students, faculty, and staff around the campus area for the visit, a difficult feat when the line stretched for 1.2 miles. But despite their efforts, I give the organizers only a passing grade for their efforts. The line was long and poorly organized. It was very easy for lots of people to cut into line. Most importantly, people in line lacked information. The biggest failure came around 4:45, when an official came and told people around us that the Mall was 2/3 full and overflow was available on Bascom. Hundreds of students broke away and ran towards the hill, hoping for a good view. They were to be disappointed – friends told me there was little sound and no view for those sitting there. Even worse – we never got a full story from the official as to what “2/3 full” meant for my part of the line. Were we definitely out? Were we probably in?
My group did get in, among the last people to do so despite being in line since 2:30 or so. The way I found out? UW-Madison tweeted the news just 5 minutes after we entered the mall. More information certainly would have been better – and overflow should have been dealt with in an orderly way, rather than the haphazard effort it became. I wonder: what happened to the people in the front of the line who didn’t get into the Mall, after Bascom Hill was full?
But the event itself was well-worth the effort. I talk about the themes of the speeches on my blog, so I’m not going to rehash them here. Altogether, despite the organizational hurdles and despite the frustrations, I’m glad that UW-Madison got to host a sitting president again. I’m glad that students had the chance to hear the President speak, even if it was admittedly a very partisan speech, and I hope that students here in the Jschool got to take advantage of the unique opportunity.