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 email@example.com, of course, but still: Come see me!
Your weekly sampling of upcoming events around KU:
• The KU Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Institute will show off its newly completed $3.5 million renovations during a reception from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday. Tours will show visitors all the high-tech stuff there that will help scientists and students expand their research, including the cryogenic tanks I saw last week, which I thought were pretty cool. The space at the event will be limited, though, so organizers ask that you RSVP if you want to go: firstname.lastname@example.org, or 864-4540.
• Historian Richard Norton Smith's second lecture on America's first presidents, on John Adams, will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Dole Institute of Politics. I checked out his talk on George Washington on Sunday, and he promised his Adams discussion would include the rise of the first U.S. political parties, which he said were far nastier than the parties we sometimes consider so polarized today.
• From 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday will be my first-ever Heard on the Hill Office Hours at the Media Crossroads in the Kansas Union. Please come say hello and tell me what's on your mind.
• A Nobel Prize winner will pitch "A Next-Generation Solution for Funding Retirement" in a talk at the Dole Institute at 1 p.m. Friday.
• And an "It Gets Better" program featuring the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles will address youth bullying, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Lied Center. Check out that link for some other related events during the week, as well.
There are far more events than this, of course, and if there are any you'd like to add, chime in via the comments below. And get those KU news tips to email@example.com.