It is worth remembering that it was 10 years ago that the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics was dedicated at Kansas University, marking a great gift for the university, Lawrence and the state.
The institute has increased the community’s intellectual standing by bringing noted leaders to the community ranging from former Presidents Carter and Clinton to former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. It has highlighted meaningful history — such as its recent in-depth look at the Battle of Gettysburg — and has excelled in documenting Dole’s service to his country, both as a leader of the Senate and as a World War II veteran who honorably served and sacrificed for his country.
But perhaps the institute’s greatest contribution has been the consistent commitment it has made to promote civil discourse. The tone was set very early by Sen. Dole himself when he selected former President Clinton — Dole’s opponent in the 1996 Presidential election — to deliver the first Dole Lecture.
It was a great act of civility for two former rivals to share a grand stage, and show the country that leaders of different parties can still come together to promote the common interests of the country.
It is expected that the Dole Institute will have many more occasions to promote the positive message of civil discourse during the next decade. The institute’s first leader, Richard Norton Smith played a terribly important role in the design, use and vision of the facility, and ensured that it started on the right path. Current director Bill Lacy has done an excellent job in expanding the programming and ensuring the high quality and variety of events.
But the institute likely will not reach its full potential until supporters — locally, regionally and nationally — do more to boost the institute’s endowment. Currently, the institute — which has an annual budget of about $1.4 million — has an endowment of about $8 million. Lacy would like to grow the endowment to about $20 million, which would give the institute greater ability to attract prominent speakers and boost programming.
Certainly the institute’s fundraising efforts will compete with many other worthy causes, but Sen. Dole’s legacy is worthy of a world class institute that promotes an attitude that is much needed in our country’s political circles.
“(Dole) was very partisan at times, he was a very strong conservative Republican,” Lacy said. “But he didn’t let that get in the way of trying to build relationships and bridging the gap to find common ground.”
If the institute could promise that today’s political leaders would adopt that common ground philosophy, it likely would face no shortage of donations.