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Vice Presidential debate between Harris and Pence taught us little

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Ruben Navarrette Jr., Opinion columnist
Published 3:15 a.m. ET Oct. 9, 2020

I saw two people who were oblivious to how annoying it is for voters to see politicians who — while perhaps well-versed in social studies — still managed to come up short on social skills.

The elephant in the room in Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate wasn’t an elephant at all. It was a zebra.

When Sen. Kamala Harris and Vice President Mike Pence took the stage, the contrast was as clear as black and white.

In fact, even before Harris and Pence arrived at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City, some commentators were euphemistically alluding to the fact that the candidates came from different backgrounds.

It’s a safe bet they weren’t talking about how the 61-year-old Pence is a product of Columbus, Indiana and 55-year-old Harris was — as she was sure to emphasize at one point — born in Oakland, California. 

Riots, looting and systemic racism

After a tense summer of racial unrest in dozens of U.S. cities, and Americans more divided on the issue of race than we have been since the 1960’s, there they were on stage — albeit socially-distancing from one another: a Black woman and a White man. 

This kind of matchup doesn’t happen every day. In fact, it has never happened before in all of U.S. history. Oh, there have been two other women nominated for vice president by a major political party — Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. But they were both White.

Watching the start of the debate, I anticipated that fireworks were on the way — and, more than likely, over the issue of race.

Yet, for the first 30 minutes of the debate, race did not come

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The Three Lessons That 2020 Has Taught Every University President

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Being a university president is a demanding, exhausting job at any time, involving service to multiple constituencies with competing – sometimes mutually exclusive – interests. But 2020 will go down as a year that’s been historically hard for university presidents. They’ve been called upon to cope with an unprecedented public health crisis, plunging revenue, frighting budget deficits, campus protests over racial injustices, and a highly polarized political environment surrounding the upcoming national election.

Although most presidents have adroitly steered their institutions through this remarkable confluence of conflicts and challenges, others have not fared as well, coming under intense criticism that ranges from angry campuses and suspicious local communities to votes of no confidence and even several high-profile terminations, retirements or resignations.

Dozens of campus chief executives have recently announced they’ll be retiring from their posts in the upcoming year. And the list of highly prominent presidents who’ve already been forced out of their jobs or indicated they’re stepping down is stunning. Beyond the typical annual churn of campus leaders, this year has seen several unusual and unanticipated departures.

Call the roll. Jerry Falwell, Jr. out at Liberty University. Bruce Harreld suddenly ending his tenure at the University of Iowa. And Jay Golden, stepping down under questionable circumstances after less than one year as President of Wichita State University.

Add to those departures several other well-publicized presidential failures, flip-flops, and fumbles related to the major issues of the day. A vote of no confidence in University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel. Widespread objections to the high-handedness of the University of Missouri’s Mun Choi as he responded to social media complaints over his performance.