A year ago, Lawrence and area residents were excited and enthused about the upcoming dedication of the Dole Institute of Politics. It was going to be a big event with many dignitaries -- former President Jimmy Carter, former Sen. George McGovern and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in attendance. A re-creation of a World War II troop encampment was planned, along with a large gathering of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients, a large banquet honoring former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and many other events.
NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw served as master of ceremonies at the dedication, and Bob Dole did a masterful job in his remarks. Speakers noted the unique and special mission of the institute and talked about the future role it could play in facilitating serious discussions about national and world issues and in emphasizing that public service is, indeed, a noble endeavor.
The July 19-22 celebration was truly special with national attention focused on Kansas University, Lawrence and the Dole Institute. C-SPAN carried many events on its nationwide network, and the program provided Kansans and KU boosters much to be proud of.
The building is a beauty, and the dedication program gave attendees and others reason to believe it would be an important, world-class facility that would help focus added attention on KU and Lawrence, as well as adding to the excellence of the university's offerings. The Presidential Lecture Series was a tremendous hit, with many people coming long distances to hear the excellent speakers.
This was a year ago. Today, it is disappointing to see the current status of the Dole Institute. Before former institute director, Richard North Smith, left KU to take over the leadership of the Lincoln museum and library being established in Springfield, Ill., he and Dole arranged for former President Bill Clinton to come to KU for an address.
Smith is gone, and no one knows what is going to happen or if the institute ever will come close to achieving its original vision of excellence and service to the state, nation and world.
Stephen McAllister was asked to divide his time between being dean of the KU law school and serving as interim director of the institute until a permanent director could be found. He later said he preferred to devote his full time to the law school, and some in the law school made it known they thought the school needed and deserved a full-time dean. At one time, it was reported McAllister was being considered for the post of dean of the UCLA law school, but he eventually withdrew his name from consideration.
As yet, no director has been found, but some reports indicate McAllister may be reconsidering the Dole position. There has not been any public announcement about this; all that is known is that there isn't much forward-looking, visionary leadership driving the institute at this time.
A major development, held under wraps until recently, was an effort by some in top KU positions to merge the Dole archives with the KU libraries. When this become known, however, it triggered great anger and disappointment.
One knowledgeable observer noted, "How can KU expect to get a highly respected director for the institute if the archives are consolidated with the library?"
When Dole learned of this proposal, he reportedly expressed his surprise and disappointment to Chancellor Robert Hemenway.
Securing Dole's papers was central to the original thinking that led to creation of the institute. It is the largest collection of papers and correspondence of any U.S. senator. There also has been talk of seeking the papers of Sen. Elizabeth Dole, which would make the institute an even more important resource for researchers.
The budget of the institute is larger today than it was a year ago, so some could say it is getting increased support, but how much of this is for programming and bringing outstanding speakers and scholars to Lawrence?
How much new money has been raised for the institute in the past year? Where does the search for a director stand? Is an endowment fund being created? It is known one highly qualified individual turned down an offer to head the institute. How much does Dole know about the operation of the institute and is he getting the full story? Is he consulted about personnel and staffing matters?
The questions go on, and it is a shame the enthusiasm, excitement and vision that were so prevalent a year ago are almost non-existent today.
What is the current vision for this unique facility and how do those at KU propose to achieve these dreams? Have dreams and goals changed, with the facility now emphasizing state and area issues rather than seeking to play a role on the national and world stage?
Reports from knowledgeable individuals indicate Dole Institute archivist Jean Bischoff is doing an excellent job. However, the leadership and direction of the overall facility causes concern.
The Dole Institute ended up as a special facility, something far better than the early plans. It should serve as a center for scholarly research and contemporary discussion of major issues. It is not just a warehouse for Dole's papers and memorabilia, as some might have favored. Rather it is a hybrid facility that combines scholarly research facilities with satellite uplink capabilities that allow it to bring the world to the institute and to KU.
For various reasons, KU did not have a satellite uplink until the Dole Institute plan was finalized. The university was far behind in this effort.
On top of these assets, the institute provides the vehicle to invite outstanding, knowledgeable individuals to the campus for programs such as the now-discarded Presidential Lecture Series and other similar programs.
It is a complete package that could add so much to the excellence and reputation of the university.
It is unfortunate a new, highly regarded director is not in place to help lead the institute in its challenging mission. As noted before, the Dole Institute can be a rare asset for the university. It has the potential to be far more than just a handsome building or a place to hold some nice meetings. It will be a shame not to develop it to its full potential.