When chatting about President Barack Obama's planned visit to CU-Boulder this evening, university spokesman Bronson Hilliard and Ryan Huff, communications director for the CU Police Department, couldn't sound more different than they did when discussing the last sizable event on campus -- the annual 4/20 bash, which CU succeeded in shrinking by banning visitors from campus and closing Norlin Quad. The new ingredients? Enthusiasm and pride.
"It's wonderfully exciting," says Hilliard (disclosure: a longtime friend). "It's a great, positive event."
And also, in all likelihood, an unprecedented one. Hilliard originally thought Obama would be the second sitting president to visit the CU-Boulder campus -- but he subsequently learned that Dwight D. Eisenhower didn't actually swing by the university during a 1954 stop in Boulder. Instead, as noted by the Boulder Daily Camera, Ike stuck to the task of dedicating the National Bureau of Standards, now dubbed the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
The Camera adds that other presidents hit Boulder before their election (Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon) or following their tenure in office (Ulysses S. Grant, Bill Clinton). But there's no mention about whether CU-Boulder was on their itinerary.
No wonder Obama's speech, which is expected to focus on student loan rates, drew such a crowd. On Sunday, Hilliard says, "we got rid of our entire ticket allotment," estimated at 4,500, "in three hours. There were thousands of students lined up around the whole University Memorial Center building. And the thing that struck me about that -- forgive me for waxing poetic -- is that it really showed the face of our student body.
"We have a highly idealistic student body that's very engaged in community service. We did a survey in 2008 showing that more than 13,000 CU students engaged in some form of community service during their time at CU. That's a much bigger crowd than shows up at 4/20, and we saw a big chunk of that crowd yesterday. They were highly energized, and it was a very exciting new beginning following the week before. It was a great Sunday."
Regarding security for Obama's visit, the CUPD's Huff notes that "I can't say much" about the number of forces contributing, "but certainly Boulder Police will be involved, we're involved, and so are other local agencies we've asked for help. Obviously, it's a huge operation anytime the President of the United States comes to your campus, and it certainly impacts parking and buses in the area, and a lot of other things."
At this point, final numbers aren't in regarding the cost of the 4/20 response, which Huff had earlier described as requiring "extraordinary measures." However, both Hilliard and Huff expect it to easily exceed the $50,000-plus figure racked up last year. Has the back-to-back nature of 4/20 and Obama's speech put a financial pinch on the campus police department?
"I wouldn't say there's a budget crisis," Huff replies. "The administration has been very supportive of police efforts on 4/20, and even though we didn't have a lot of advance notice on the presidential event, we'll be fine on expenses."
Huff declines to specify when he heard Obama was coming to town beyond revealing "it was a little bit before 4/20." Yet he insists no one in the department panicked at the thought of handling two tricky situations in such close proximity.
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"We're in the emergency services business," he says. "We have to respond to spontaneous events on a frequent basis. We knew we had to get past one event and go immediately into planning the next one."
So far, everything has gone smoothly in terms of ticket distribution, with a session for the general public yesterday coming off without incident. But the real test is later today.
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