October 05, 2004

Lawrence named Public Policy Institute director

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. - - Veteran newsman, press secretary and respected political analyst Mike Lawrence is the new director of Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Public Policy Institute. Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn announced the appointment today (Tuesday, Oct. 5).

Lawrence's appointment, which is subject to ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees, became effective Oct. 1.

Lawrence has been serving as the Institute's interim director since December when founder and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon died. Lawrence joined the Institute as associate director in 1997.

"Mike was selected from an outstanding pool of finalists," Dunn said. "His credentials, broad experience and extensive contributions to the success of the Public Policy Institute were all major plusses in his selection. Mike will sustain Sen. Simon's leadership and vision while adding to the Institute his own distinctive views and perspectives."Lawrence was chosen from among four finalists who were selected from a pool of 17 applicants in a national search.

Chancellor Walter V. Wendler said Lawrence's appointment provides the Institute with continuity of purpose and leadership.

"We are pleased that Mike is going to remain at the Public Policy Institute and continue the important work that both he and Paul Simon brought to this campus and the region," said Wendler. "Mike's view of how the Institute can play an integral role in improving people's lives, not only in Southern Illinois but throughout the world, embodies what Paul Simon envisioned -- making a real difference in society."

Lawrence, 62, said he feels "honored and privileged to be chosen."

"The three other finalists had impressive credentials. I appreciate the confidence shown in me by those involved in the search, and by the administration at the University," he said.

"The Institute is never going to be the same without Paul Simon, but I am confident that we can achieve what he would want the Institute to accomplish," said Lawrence. "I am committed to building on what he achieved here, and I also am committed to remaining faithful to his vision of the Institute."

Lawrence hopes to leave his own mark on the Institute, "but we are going to continue to address issues on the regional, state, national and international levels."

The Institute, he said, will continue to seek and achieve positive results based on its work.

"We are going to continue being a 'do-tank' rather than a 'think-tank.' We have an ambitious agenda for this year, including trying to change the way that state legislative districts are drawn in Illinois," Lawrence said.

The Public Policy Institute has made positive differences in many ways during its brief history, he said. Examples include enriching the campus and the Southern Illinois region with stimulating speakers; engineering the "most comprehensive reform available in campaign finance laws in nearly a quarter of a century"; and being active in establishing the SIUC Heartland Dental Clinic to serve disadvantaged children unable to get access to preventative dental care.

"We were the only Public Policy Institute in the nation to review what happened in the Rwanda genocide and to make recommendations on how to prevent future slaughters," Lawrence said.

"We have made a positive difference on many levels . . . our region, our state, and I believe on the international front," he said.

Lawrence wants to do a thorough assessment of the Institute's organizational needs before deciding on an assistant director.

"We have an excellent staff at the Institute and I will be assessing our needs," he said.

Martin Simon, son of the late senator, lauded the appointment.

"I have said before and continue to believe it was my father's wish that Mike carry on in his tradition at the Institute," Simon said.

In addition to his work with the Institute, Lawrence holds a faculty rank of professor and teaches in the journalism school. He also has taught political science classes.

He also writes a column for the commentary pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, State Journal-Register in Springfield, Quad City Times in Davenport, Iowa, Champaign News-Gazette and Southern Illinoisan. The Associated Press Editors Association recently honored Lawrence for his exemplary service to other journalists and newspapers in Illinois.

Before his work at the University, Lawrence was press secretary and senior policy adviser to former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar for more than six years. Prior to that, he was press secretary to Edgar for more than three years while Edgar was Illinois' secretary of state. He previously headed news bureaus in the Illinois State House, first for the Quad-City Times and later for Lee Enterprises and the Chicago Sun-Times, and held top editing posts at the Quad-City Times. He got his start covering government news for the Galesburg Register-Mail.

Lawrence attended Knox College, where he also received an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1998.

Lawrence and his wife, Marianne, live in Carbondale.

Retaining high-quality faculty, embracing the value of service and inspiring students to become citizen-leaders with global perspectives are among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.