Posted on Jan 20, 2015 in Campus News and News
President Barack Obama will visit KU Jan. 22, two days after delivering his State of the Union address. His visit will be the first at KU by a sitting U.S. president since William Howard Taft in 1911.
News of the president’s appearance sparked a huge demand for tickets when they became available to students, faculty and staff Tuesday, the first day of spring-semester classes. At its peak shortly after 9 a.m., the line stretched from the Kansas Union south and west along Jayhawk Boulevard, then doubled back at the four-way stop and extended north on Sunflower Drive nearly to the west side of the Union. Tickets for the general public were to be available beginning at 5 p.m. Tuesday at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
Air Force One is scheduled to fly into Topeka’s Forbes Field Wednesday evening. Gov. Sam Brownback, l’82, will greet the president, in a ceremony not open to the public, but will not attend the Thursday speech due to a prior commitment.
Obama will stay in Lawrence Wednesday night. His Thursday speech at Anschutz—a site apparently chosen by the White House for security reasons—is scheduled to begin at 11:20 a.m. It will be broadcast live on Kansas Public Radio and streamed online by the White House, and KU is providing regular updates at president.ku.edu.
No other details about the president’s itinerary have been announced, but it is thought he might make time to visit with coach Bill Self and the men’s basketball team.
“I’ve been in contact with somebody out of his office, and we’d like to get that worked out because that would mean a lot to everybody in our program, but certainly to our players,” Self said Monday. “He’s a pretty big basketball fan, so I think if it’s possible he would definitely like to do that, based on what I’ve been told.”
Self and the Jayhawks last met with the president of the United States on June 3, 2008, when President George W. Bush welcomed them to the White House following their NCAA Tournament championship earlier that spring.
Obama’s previous connection with the Jayhawks came in 2011, when he inked Kansas into the winner’s line on his NCAA Tournament bracket. The Jayhawks busted the president’s bracket with an Elite Eight loss to Virginia Commonwealth.
They might be in for some ribbing from the president, who is known to put a lot of effort into his men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament selections, but the Jayhawks say they’re eager nonetheless.
“Coach was talking to us about it in pregame, that we’ll probably get to sneak in and see him,” sophomore guard Brannen Greene said after the OU game. “We’re all excited. Everybody wants to see the president. It’ll be fun.”
Freshman forward Cliff Alexander savored what he saw as a meaningful link between Martin Luther King Jr. Day events on the Hill and the president’s visit just days later.
“It’s a big connection, that today is MLK Day and he’s coming here Thursday, a very big connection,” Alexander said. “It’s very exciting to have him here. Barack Obama, first black president, very exciting. Can’t wait to see him.”
Before Taft in 1911, the previous U.S. presidents to visit KU while in office were Rutherford B. Hayes, in 1879, and Ulysses S. Grant, in 1873. Former presidents to visit the Hill were Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
The long line for Obama tickets was perhaps caused, in part, because of the 6 a.m. distribution for student tickets to the Jan. 31 Kansas State basketball game; many then headed directly to the Union, and the line, which began forming with campers at 2 a.m., swelled after 7 a.m.
Until the supply ran out shortly after noon, an estimated 4,000 tickets had been distributed. It was noted by one campus official that those who showed up after 10 a.m. had to wait less than five minutes and still got tickets.