Colleges and universities have always played host to politicians and government officials. It is a natural occurrence for many reasons. For public institutions, it makes perfect sense that elected officials (and those seeking office) would visit campuses simply due to the fact that we are stewards of government funding and are an instrument of government. In short, we serve the people of our states (and in the case of federally supported institutions the entire nation). Whether an institution is a public one or not, most colleges and universities receive federal (if not state) funds via loans, grants, and other mechanisms. The recipient of the largest amount of federal research funding today is the private institution Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD (the figure is well over $1 billion!). It also makes sense from a pragmatic sense. Colleges and universities have historically been the bastions of free speech. If you want to be able to speak your mind, a college campus has been the place to do it. This is one of the reasons colleges are hosts to presidential and gubernatorial debates.
For those and many other reasons, governors, members of Congress and state legislatures, and all manner of other public officials come to campus. We’ve hosted a few state officials here in my department at the University of Memphis, and in my previous job at the Virginia Commonwealth University we hosted quite a number. Today’s post includes two such visits that I happened to be part of.
I start with six photos from February 2, 1990. Then President George H.W. Bush visited campus to announce a program to support K-12 STEM teachers. It was part of a very quick tour of both UT and NC State which he visited earlier that day. He was making a push for STEM and announcing a group to help facilitate math and science across the country. He was in Raleigh for only about two and half hours. His total time in Knoxville couldn’t have been much more, and he also went out to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that day. His speech was in the Alumni Gymnasium that day. He was joined by then Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos. Cavazos is a two-time alumnus of Texas Tech University (my doctoral alma mater) and previous President of the university (and to this day the only Hispanic to serve in that role). The president of the University of Tennessee System at that time Lamar Alexander, was there and ironically would succeed Cavazos as Secretary of Education within a year of this visit. Also present were Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter, Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe, UT Knoxville’s Chancellor John Quinn, and other notables.
In the first photo, Governor McWherter is at the lectern giving his introductory remarks. Immediately to his right (on the left in the photo) is, I believe, Congressman Don Sundquist. Next is U.S. Senator Howard H. Baker, Jr. A building would later be named for Baker on the UT Knoxville campus. If you look at McWherter’s left side (right side of photo) you can just see part of the face of Mayor Ashe. Note that the presidential seal is not on present on the lectern. It just sticks on there with Velcro or tape and is generally put on right before the president speaks. As you can see in the second photo, however, it was plopped up there by the time Lamar Alexander (UT System President and former governor) gave his remarks as seen in the second photo. The stage is set by the second photo, and more people can be seen who would remain for the rest of the event. Near the end of the first row on the right of Alexander (left side of the photo) is, I believe, former Congressman Jimmy Quillen (second to last). I believe the last person in the front row beside him is Congressman Jim Cooper (I may be mistaken). I do know that the last person in the front row on the other side is Congressman Jimmy Duncan. His daughter was a student in the same year as I was at UT.
The last four photos are of President Bush entering the stage, giving his speech, and receiving a standing ovation after.
I had actually volunteered to help with the visit. I spent two days working with the advance team which had taken up shop in the Knoxville Hilton. I made copies, answered the phone, and ran errands. It was a hoot! For doing that, I not only got to go to the speech, I had a reserved set with the other volunteers in a prime balcony spot. It was really cool.
On January 11, 2012, First Lady Michelle Obama came to VCU to announce the launch of the Joining Forces Initiative, a collaboration by members of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM) to add additional training on traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the medical curricula (and specifically for veterans and active duty service members). She chose VCU as the site due to the extensive amount of research and clinical care on these topics among active duty service members and veterans we were doing. As I was the day to day operations director for the largest center for this work at VCU, I had the opportunity to sit on stage during her remarks. In the photos and videos below, you can see me in the upper left corner in a gray suit with a red tie. (Photos courtesy of VCU via Flickr, see here).
Of course, these things go both ways. It is a routine thing for college and university administrators to visit government officials. Many public schools have a "capital day" when they send representatives to speak with members of the state legislature, the governor, and other state officials. Some even have "Hill Days" when they go to Washington, DC. I have personally been to state offices in Richmond (when I was at VCU) to meet with directors of state agencies, and DC on numerous occasions to meet with federal directors as well. These were not required reporting meetings, mind you, but rather to meet with people to detail our work and advocate for funding or other support. For example, here is a photo of me from 2019 meeting with Mary Lovely, Chief, Training Programs Unit, Acting Division Director Training and Service Programs Division of the Federal Rehabilitation Services Administration on just such an occasion.
University Grounds is a blog about college and university campuses, their buildings and grounds, and the people who live and work on them.
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