Virginia Commonwealth University

Make it real.

Town Hall Meeting for a Ghost Town?

January 28, 2012

By Christine Stoddard
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – When U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood held a “town hall meeting” at Virginia Commonwealth University to discuss President Obama’s State of the Union address, the turnout implied more of a ghost town than a bustling institution of more 32,000 students.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Sam Lahood, addresses students at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA on January 26, 2012. CNS photo by Christine Stoddard.

About 75 students attended Wednesday’s meeting, according to Katherine Witt, chair of academic affairs for the VCU Student Government Association, which hosted the event. (A VCU press release put attendance a bit higher – at “nearly 100.”)

The University Commons Theater, where the talk took place, seats 280 people. So with 75 students present, the space was about a quarter full for LaHood’s visit.

VCU enrolls more than 32,000 students, both graduate and undergraduate. With an audience of 75, that means one of about every 426 students attended LaHood’s talk.

Witt, a junior majoring in political science and international studies, said the SGA received notification of LaHood’s visit only one week in advance.

“We advertised a little, but the short notice didn’t allow for much publicity,” Witt said. “To be honest, we just kind of went with it.”

The SGA’s main form of publicity for the event was email blasts to various academic units at the university, such as the School of World Studies.

The SGA did not post anything about the event on its Facebook page until about 24 hours before LaHood’s visit: “One of Obama’s Cabinet Members will be speaking here at VCU !!! RSVP.”

At 2:35 a.m. Wednesday, another post read, “There is no longer a need to RSVP for the State of the Union Town Hall: Presented by VCU SGA! Just be sure to come to the event with your student ID!” Two people “liked” the post; one person shared it.

As secretary of transportation, LaHood oversees about 55,000 employees and a budget of about $70 billion.

One day after LaHood’s visit to VCU, Egypt barred six Americans from leaving the country, including LaHood’s son, Sam LaHood. The six work for a nonprofit group that promotes democracy and civic participation.

This CNS article was published by