Schedule for Presidential Lecture Series
l 7:30 p.m., Feb. 16: Discussion about Franklin D. Roosevelt.
l 3 p.m., Feb. 18: Robin Rowland, KU professor, discusses his book “Reagan at Westminster.”
l 7:30 p.m, Feb. 23.: Discussion about Dwight Eisenhower.
l 7:30 p.m., Feb. 24: Discussion about Woodrow Wilson.
All events will be held at the Dole Institute, 2350 Petefish Drive and are free and open to the public.
Organizers were scrambling Sunday afternoon just minutes before presidential historian Richard Norton Smith began his talk about Ronald Reagan’s presidency.
Staff and volunteers kept lining up chairs inside the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics, 2350 Petefish Drive. The crowd kept growing.
Eventually, those who hadn’t come early to the first of the five-part 2011 Presidential Lecture Series were ushered into the overflow room, where they watched Smith on a large screen as he touched on numerous aspects of Ronald Reagan’s presidential tenure; everything from his gubernatorial campaign to his foreign policy achievements to his political legacy more than 20 years after leaving office.
“In 1980, we were in a funk,” Smith told the 350 or so guests. “We had begun to lose confidence.”
Faced with the tough economic times, the man who “made a career out of being underestimated,” became “one of a handful of transformative presidents,” Smith said.
Smith, having just written a feature for this week’s Time magazine, “The Reagan Revelation,” selected Reagan as one of four “20th Century Mount Rushmore” candidates, along with former Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower.
“He changed things,” said Smith, who is the author of several books and former director of the Reagan Presidential Library and the Reagan Center for Public Affairs.
The lecture series was sort of a homecoming for Smith, who became the Dole Institute’s first director in 2001. Now a scholar in residence at George Mason University, Smith said he’s proud to see that the scholarship on all things political continues in the area.
“It’s always great to come back, but it’s great to know that it’s living up to what Senator Dole wanted it to be: bipartisan setting; very high standards,” he said.
Appealing to the history of the presidency — and not necessarily to liberals or conservatives — was the goal for the series, said Dole Institute Director Bill Lacy. The character and inner challenges faced by every president is of high interest to many Americans, he said.
“I think Americans are fascinated with the topic of presidents and how they performed and how people think about them years after they’ve served,” Lacy said.
Those opinions and popular public sentiment change through the years, which highlights the importance of revisiting presidential legacies, Smith said.
“We tend to see them in a different light out of the office than in office,” Smith said.
Not for Lawrence resident Katherine Stannard, however, who has always had a special place in her heart for President Reagan.
“I’ve always been an admirer,” she said.
Learning, though, was her main motivation Sunday, and she said she won’t miss out on the opportunity to learn about the other presidents featured in the series.
“It’s an intellectual experience,” Stannard said. “Even if you don’t agree, you learn something.”