From its inception, the Dole Institute of Politics has been able to attract auditorium-filling, political A-listers to speak at Kansas University.
But director Bill Lacy said it's not their intention to pack the house with every speaker that comes to the institute.
The programming at the Dole Institute is a combination of big names - the senators, former presidential candidates and generals - and those who rarely appear on television or in newspapers but are active in politics and public service.
The second category of speaker, Lacy said, helps demystify the political process and encourages students to pursue careers in politics and public service.
"Those kinds of programs involve bringing in individuals who simply aren't going to bring in the big crowds," Lacy said.
But that isn't to say the Dole Institute hasn't been pulling in the crowds.
This past school year alone, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, columnist Leonard Pitts and former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker have gathered crowds large enough for the 2,200-seat Lied Center. The Dole Institute has room for about 500 people.
Of course the biggest crowd the Dole Institute drew was in May 2004. When former President Bill Clinton came to talk at the inaugural Dole Lecture, the attendance not only outgrew the institute, but the Lied Center. More than 12,000 people gathered at Allen Fieldhouse to hear the former president speak. He was introduced by the institute's namesake, Bob Dole, who ran against Clinton in the 1996 presidential race.
But people have been pouring into the institute ever since its doors opened to three days of festivities in 2003. And attendance to the institute's programs continue to increase.
"You won't find many programs free on campus that draw several hundred people on a consistent basis," Lacy said.
For some programs, Lacy said, it's a no-brainier that a speaker will reach the capacity at Dole Institute, but every once in a while he is surprised. When syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts signed on to speak in fall 2006, he was originally scheduled for the Dole Institute.
However, as the buzz grew around town, Lacy said they made the decision to have the program at the Lied Center.
"We had a full house, which frankly surprised me and pleased us," Lacy said.
When possible, Lacy said he likes to keep the programs at the Dole Institute, because they convey the spirit of the facility.
With just a few hundred guests, the speakers and audience are in a more intimate setting. And the replica of the state's Capitol dome is an ever-present reminder "of what it is we do every day and the mission of Bob Dole and Chancellor (Robert) Hemenway," Lacy said.
Among the goals of the Dole Institute, Lacy said, is to allow for interaction between the speaker and the audience.
"That is a requirement that we have here. It's something that the speakers enjoy and our guests enjoy the opportunity to ask questions," Lacy said. "The smaller the group, the easier that is."
Even at the Lied Center, guests are treated to question-and-answer sessions.
Lacy said they haven't outgrown the institute, noting the institute only has to expand its programs to bigger venues two to three times a year.
Along with the mixture of the political heavyweights and lesser-known speakers, the Dole Institute has a study group headed by two fellows, one a Democrat and the other a Republican. In the spring semester, former Missouri Gov. Bob Holden and Florida Federal Emergency Management Agency official Scott Morris were the fellows. They held programs almost weekly.