Students who filed an open-records request for the University of Colorado's documents related to the Republican presidential debate last fall say they found no "red flag" in their review of
the files so far.
Two undergraduates who asked for all records related to the Oct. 28 debate hosted at the Coors Event Center earlier had accused the university of dragging its feet on their request, which took more than a month to fulfill, and wondered whether the university was hiding something.
The students were seeking more information about the limited number of seats available to CU students and employees for the debate. All told, 99 students received tickets to the debate.
Now, after reviewing a portion of the thousands of pages the university provided, the students say the picture is clearer: The university's hands were tied on tickets by the debates' co-organizers.
"There was a lot of talk about scheduling meetings and conference calls and that sort of thing, but nothing that was a huge red flag," said Dylan Robinson-Ruet, a freshman studying anthropology who helped file the records request.
Robinson-Ruet said he felt better about how planning for the debate went after reviewing the documents, including CU's contract with cable news network CNBC and the Republican National Committee, which designated the number of tickets CU would get.
"The contract was very specific so the university didn't have a ton of leeway," he said. "If I were in the position of the university, I would've likely done the same thing. They weren't going to say no to hosting a presidential debate on campus. That's just such a huge learning opportunity."
University officials said the students' request was one of the largest open-records request they had ever received and that staffers worked hard to process the request in a timely manner.
They said it produced thousands of pages, which each needed to be reviewed to protect student records, personnel files, security plans and other information exempt from inspection under state and federal law.
Officials planned several other debate-related activities in an attempt to make the debate more of a learning opportunity for students who couldn't sit in the roughly 1,000-member audience.
The university did ask for — and received — more seats from the Republican National Committee, which was in charge of ticket distribution.
Once news spread about the limited number of student tickets available, officials from the university, CNBC and the Republican National Committee explained that the debate was more like the taping of a television show than a live event. They said the debate was organized with its 14 million television viewers in mind, not a live audience.
"This isn't a play," Sean Spicer, chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, said in October.
At a public speech last October, Chancellor Phil DiStefano said he wished more students could attend the debate, though he still saw value in bringing it to campus.
The university said Tuesday it saw $4.1 million to $4.2 million in publicity value from having the CU brand and name associated with such a high-profile event.
"On the down side, we're not being able to meet the needs of our students as far as tickets," DiStefano said. "On the upside, I think there's been much more discussion going on and debate and that's what we're about at the university."