Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A new direction

Mike Lawrence, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, is retiring from the institute November 1. He started in 1994 as associate director and became director in 2004, shortly after the unexpected death of former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon.

"You can’t really replace in some senses either Paul Simon or Mike Lawrence, but we’ve got to find someone who will carry on. And we have some very capable, accomplished people in the pool," says John Jackson, political science professor at the university and head of the search committee to replace Lawrence.

An interim director will be announced shortly, and the search committee expects to publish the top three candidates some time in November. A new director may not start until January, according to Jackson.

The new director will take over as the economic downturn continues to manifest itself in new ways. Lawrence told us in the spring that one reason he felt comfortable retiring is because Simon's goal of building a $10 million endowment had been accomplished and then some. But Jackson says just as universities throughout the state are experiencing lower returns on their investments, so too is SIUC. “The endowment is fine," Jackson says. "It’s the income off the endowment that’s not quite what it had been. So right now, we have what we hope is a short-term cash flow problem. Not huge, but it’s a headache for us.”

While Lawrence is packing his books into boxes, the university will continue to benefit from the stamp that Lawrence put on the institute and its agenda, Jackson adds. "He’s focused us more on Illinois issues, Illinois concerns, and I think that has been his forte because that’s where his network and his contacts were."

Before spending a decade with the Edgar Administration, Lawrence spent 25 years as a journalist, including 20 years with Lee Enterprises and its Statehouse bureau that he helped start and another year as Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Sun-Times. He plans to return to writing political commentaries, which he has said he stopped after being pressured to do so in the interest of the institute and of the university. He remains vice chair of the Illinois Issues Advisory Board.

We wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing his byline again.

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