In four months, on July 22, the Dole Institute of Politics will be celebrating its 10th anniversary. Also on July 22, Sen. Bob Dole will be celebrating his 90th birthday.
These two events should focus attention on the importance of both Sen. Dole and the Dole Institute to Lawrence, Kansas University and the state of Kansas.
The university would not have the Dole Institute if it had not been for the senator’s vision and desire to promote the idea of a facility or center at KU where politics and issues could be examined in a civil manner, where convictions coexist with civility.
It has been a huge success in every respect, although it was a tough project to get off the ground. There had been some grand-sounding pledges or commitments by some at KU relative to how the Dole project would command the highest fiscal priority at the university, but this failed to materialize. It wasn’t until Dole himself, many of his enthusiastic supporters around the country, the late Wichita banker and loyal KU alumnus Jordan Haines and Richard Norton Smith all combined their efforts that sufficient funds were raised to get the project under way. Also, the site was just a barren field of weeds until KU Endowment officials made a commitment to provide funds to break ground, start the foundation and thereby demonstrate the project was for real.
Smith did a fantastic job in redesigning the interior of the proposed building, also using his vast experience in presidential libraries and museums to create an environment that helped highlight the many achievements of Dole, along with chronicling his early years in Russell, his time at KU, his military service and his early political career in Kansas.
Architects had designed a first-rate, impressive building, and Smith, working closely with the senator, stressed the importance of having the building connect with people on and off the campus, to personalize the building and celebrate the state that Dole was so honored to represent.
Smith wanted the building to serve as a forum, a gathering place for all kinds of ideas and ideologies, to foster conversations that are so badly needed today in Washington’s current environment and strident, intransigent positions.
Smith got the institute started off on the right foot, and Bill Lacy, the current director, has done a superb job in building and enriching the institute’s programming and contributions to the university, city, state and nation.
Consider what has taken place at the institute over the past 10 years. Consider what if the site on West Campus was still a barren, weed-filled field and there was no Dole Institute.
These are some of the notables who have participated in Dole programming and activities: Former president Jimmy Carter, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the late Sen. George McGovern, Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Polish President Lech Walesa, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker, civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, President George H.W. Bush, Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, President Bill Clinton, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, journalists Tom Brokaw and Bob Woodward, Sens. Bob and Elizabeth Dole and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell.
Post-election conferences in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012 have featured senior advisers, pollsters and strategists for presidential and congressional candidates in each of these elections.
Dole Forum programs have provided a diversity of programs with Colombian President Juan Manual Santos; the chief justice and two associate justices of the U.S. Supreme Court; then-Sen. Joe Biden; former Vice President Walter Mondale; journalists David Broder, Robert Novak, Eleanor Clift, Jack Germond, Leonard Pitts Jr., Jules Witcover, Susan Page and Dan Balz; Gen. David Petraeus; Gen. Bill Caldwell; NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue; T. Boone Pickens, House Speaker Newt Gingrich; San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown; Sen. Jack Danforth and a number of past presidential candidates.
This is only a fraction of the high-profile speakers who have appeared at the Dole. Smith also has been a highly popular speaker on several occasions with standing-room-only audiences.
In addition, there have been hundreds, if not thousands of programs with the Dole collaborating with numerous KU schools and departments and student-oriented programs. The Dole has hosted a wide variety of civic programming, bringing students and teachers from schools throughout the state.
In addition to the impressive speakers and programs, the institute also has an active and growing archival program with the Dole Collection now complete, opening considerably faster than specified in the original deed of gift. An extensive oral history program has been completed, and C-Span has created more than 25 programs based on these oral histories. Dole archival fellows are selected most years, there are summer exhibits, and research and travel grants have been awarded to domestic and European scholars.
The Dole Institute has named 464 Dole scholars, awarding more than $1.5 million in $1,000 renewable scholarships, and 127 one-year scholarships throughout Kansas.
The Dole Institute has been a tremendous success in every respect and every measurement. Again, consider what the record would show if there had not been a Dole Institute at KU for the past nine years.
KU currently is engaged in a $1.2 billion capital campaign. It’s almost a sure bet this goal will be met and probably exceeded. This writer has no idea whether the Dole Institute has been identified as a recipient of a slice of the capital campaign, but it is important the Dole receive sufficient funding to make sure it will have an endowment that will assure its future active and important role at the university.
What better way to recognize the institute’s 10th birthday and Sen. Dole’s 90th birthday than to make sure there are funds set aside to assure the institute will be a permanent fixture on the campus? Nothing is guaranteed; university priorities could change as chancellors change and possible efforts by some at the university to take over the Dole Institute for their own use.
The record of the Dole, however, and the manner in which it has enriched and stimulated thinking on and off the campus should be sufficient reason to make sure there is financial support to ensure the Dole will continue to play a vital and timely role at KU.
Also, a properly funded endowment for the institute would be a well-deserved and appropriate 90th birthday present for Sen. Dole, who has done so much for Kansas.