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Visiting historian Richard Norton Smith dreams about future Dole Institute expansion

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Before his talk about George Washington on Sunday, I chatted with presidential historian and former Dole Institute of Politics director Richard Norton Smith about what he's up to these days (finishing up a 1,200-page book, plus a "couple thousand footnotes," on Nelson Rockefeller, for one).

But we also chatted about where the Dole Institute is now compared with his time there, when he oversaw the construction of the building in which we were sitting. (Not that I had to ask many questions; that guy is a talker, which might have something to do with why his presidential talks are pretty popular.)

He said he's thrilled with where the institute is now and how it's progressed under Bill Lacy's leadership. It attracts crowds to its events while staying lean and efficient in a way that Bog Dole himself would appreciate, he said. "It's more than lived up to our hopes," says Smith, who left the institute in 2003.

But he also couldn't help dreaming a bit about what it could still become. The Dole building was purposefully designed so that it could be expanded, Smith said, and, boy, wouldn't it be nice if there were an auditorium tacked on to the north end, or an outdoor amphitheater around the artificial lake out front?

Right now the Institute holds its events in its main hall. It's certainly nice to look at, and it seats several hundred folks, but I've often seen crowds overflowing into a media room where people can watch on a projector screen. I can certainly see how an auditorium would come in handy.

The KU administration has always been supportive of the Dole Institute, Smith emphasized, and he thinks the building is beautiful. But if any potential donors out there would like to make a 90th birthday tribute to Bob Dole this July 22 (also the building's 10th anniversary), he has an idea: chip in for a bolstered endowment.

"When you succeed, it's easy to be taken for granted," Smith said, "but hopefully there's no one around here taking the success of the Dole Institute for granted."

By the way, even though Smith will be talking about John Adams over at the Dole Institute when President Obama starts his State of the Union address tonight, he previewed Obama's talk for the Wall Street Journal in this web video. He Skyped in straight from the Dole Institute, you'll notice.

And here's your final reminder in this space: My first Heard on the Hill office hours are tomorrow (Wednesday), 9 a.m. to noon in the Media Crossroads at the Kansas Union. This is your chance to ask me a question, tell me about something I should be writing about or just tell me what you really think of me. You can always send your KU news tips to merickson@ljworld.com, of course, but still: Come see me!

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