UIS takes initiative with new program

Public policy focus of center


The University of Illinois at Springfield is poised to step onto the national — and most likely international — stage when it becomes the official academic arm of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

"This is one of the most exciting opportunities in the history of the institution," UIS Chancellor Richard Ringeisen said last week. "This means a lot to lots of people."

Pending the U of I board of trustees’ approval, which is expected at the board’s July meeting, UIS’s Institute for Public Affairs will be renamed the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Center for Governmental Studies, and new programs geared to working with the Lincoln Presidential Library will be added to IPA’s current responsibilities.

Earlier this year, the General Assembly appropriated $1.5 million to UIS to begin implementing the new presidential center. It is expected to take a year or longer for all aspects of the new center to be up and running, although some parts should be in operation in time for the Nov. 18 opening of the library part of the new facility.

"We’ve been planning this for a couple years," said Ernest Cowles, interim director of the IPA. "The purpose (of the center) is to be the academic research arm of the Lincoln Library and Museum and to focus on public policy research and public affairs."

Cowles said several new initiatives are planned to start with. They are:

  • A Lincoln Leadership Academy that would help prepare a small, select cadre of emerging leaders in the state through a year-long series of workshops.

  • An annual Lincoln Legacy Lecture series that would address issues that confronted Lincoln in his time but are of continuing relevance to American society, such as race, the nature of leadership and the relationship between the government and the private sector.

  • A series of public policy summits that would bring scholars and other experts from across the state and nation to discuss emerging public policy issues.

  • A presidential library staff internship program that would provide yearlong graduate internships at the presidential library and museum to students from any college in Illinois.

  • Financial support for students working on research projects related to the presidential library and museum.

  • A short-term grant program to aid visiting Lincoln scholars using the presidential library.

  • Lincoln research fellowships to provide extended financial support for senior Lincoln scholars using the resources of the presidential library.

  • A summer leadership program that will give students between their junior and senior years of high school a chance to learn about Lincoln the leader in a month-long residential program that will also provide advanced college credits.

  • A summer program on Lincoln and the Civil War for high school teachers conducted by Lincoln scholar Phillip Shaw Paludan, who holds the Naomi B. Lynn Distinguished Chair in Lincoln Studies at UIS.

  • A Lincoln papers research project, a continuation of the Lincoln Legal Papers Project expanded to include the other writings of Lincoln.

  • A literacy initiative designed to provide leadership toward establishing Illinois as a model for literacy efforts in the United States.

    Nancy Ford, former director of the IPA, said planners looked at programs at existing presidential libraries to come up with initiatives for the new center. She said the center is not limited to the initiatives under development and could add other offerings later.

    Paludan said the programs are important, in part, because they don’t focus solely on scholarly activity, significant as that might be.

    "This gets at (Lincoln) from several directions … and engages students at all levels," he said.

    Ringeisen said scholars in the Presidential Center will work closely with state government, functioning at times as "problem solvers and problem analysts" for the state.

    Existing programs of the Institute for Public Affairs — the legislative internship program, the survey research office, publication of Illinois Issues magazine, operation of WUIS/WIPA public radio, and operation of the UIS television office — will all continue under the Presidential Center. However, money for the new initiatives will be separate from money appropriated for existing programs, Cowles said.

    Initially, about 20 positions will be created at the university because of the new center, he said. Hiring is expected to begin in July. Cowles will become interim director of the presidential center, and a national search will be launched to fill the position permanently, he said.

    Existing UIS faculty will be used for some programs, and outside advisers will be hired as needed, he said.

    The center will need about 14 offices to house all its personnel.

    "I would anticipate that we will use space at both UIS and at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum," Cowles said. "We’ll definitely have a presence downtown."

    Elements of the new programs will be phased in, with the residential program for high school students scheduled to begin next week and the Lincoln Legacy Lectures set to begin with the presidential library’s opening in November. Other elements, such as the research fellowships, may not begin for a year or more.

    The presidential library and museum will be an independent entity from the presidential center, and neither will have direct control over the other’s activities. The two facilities will work cooperatively, aided by the guidance of an advisory committee made up higher education leaders, scholars and other community leaders from across the state.

    The foundation formed to support the presidential library also will raise money for the presidential center, as will the U of I Foundation.

    Cowles said creation of the presidential center in conjunction with the presidential library and museum will provide UIS with "instant national visibility."

    Ringeisen said that visibility likely will become international, as people from around the world come to associate the new center with the library and museum.

    He said it is also nice to be working on building a major new program at a time when UIS and higher education in general are dismantling programs because of tough economic times.

    Working on the center "helps us to work though the other issues," he said. As the presidential center grows, "it’s going to evolve, and that’s going to be fun to watch."

    Doug Pokorski can be reached at 788-1539 or doug.pokorski@sj-r.com.

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