Zelikow was named director of U.Va.s Miller Center
of Public Affairs and White Burkett Miller Professor of
History four summers ago. Initially a Texas trial and civil
rights lawyer, he taught for the Department of the Navy
before serving as a career diplomat in the State Department
and on the staff of the National Security Council in the
first Bush White House. He was a professor at Harvard Universitys
John F. Kennedy School of Government from 1991 until 1998.
the highlights of his U.Va. tenure thus far has been serving
as executive director of the bipartisan National Commission
on Federal Election Reform, co-sponsored by the center and
overseen by former presidents Carter and Ford. Zelikow is
also one of two general editors, with Ernest May, of the
centers Presidential Recordings Project, which is
transcribing thousands of hours of telephone conversations
and meetings secretly recorded by Presidents Roosevelt,
Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon.
Kimberley Girard recently sat down with Zelikow to discuss
the state of the Miller Center.
Zelikow relishes Miller Centers
By Kimberly Girard
How would you define the Miller Centers mission and its
relationship to the rest of the University?
In a broad sense, the Universitys mission is to gather knowledge
and share it. The Miller
Center tries to do both. It gathers knowledge, with a special
emphasis on the national and international policies of the United
States, concentrating on the American presidency. It is the premier
center for basic research on the American presidency and the related
contemporary political history of the United States.
we also share knowledge. We share it in providing one of the outstanding
public affairs speaker series to be found in this part of America.
We also share it through a magazine, the Miller Center Report,
and through a television show, For The Record, that
we help produce and is syndicated nationally, featuring speakers
often overlapping with the kind of speakers that we include in
our forum program. And, of course, we try to publish research,
not only the fruits of our own basic research program, but also
important interpretive efforts, like our support for Bill Millers
recent book, Lincolns Virtues, which has received well-deserved
Can you highlight at least two of the Miller Centers key
Im very proud that the center has built a strong foundation
for doing basic research on the presidency. We now are an authoritative
center for the most important basic research on that institution
now under way. Im proud of that.
Im also proud of the centers efforts to inform and
affect contemporary policy deliberations on matters where we can
bring some expertise to bear. Because of the centers reputation
and credibility as a bipartisan and nonpartisan center, we have
organized nine national commissions that have made recommendations
on how to address key institutional problems in the workings of
the presidency and its relations with other branches of government.
Most recently, the Miller Center sponsored the National Commission
on Federal Election Reform, chaired by former presidents Carter
and Ford. The commission produced a report to the American people
that was endorsed in the Rose Garden last year by President George
W. Bush. The report formed the basis for legislation that was
passed by the House of Representatives last December. [Since this
interview was conducted, the Senate passed a similar bill. The
bills are now before a conference committee.]
What were your goals in forming the National Commission on Federal
Election Reform, and what, in your mind, would constitute a successful
reaction to the commissions recommendations?
by Tom Cogill
right, with former President Jimmy Carter, who co-chaired
the centers election reform task force.
To put it simply, our goal was to keep Florida from ever happening
again. It was to figure out how the United States should provide,
for the first time in the history of the republic, a truly national
framework for organizing our national elections. Our elections
are principally administered by state and county governments.
The federal role is to provide a national framework for the exercise
of that responsibility. We dont want to move the responsibility
from the state level to the federal level, but there needs to
be a federal role in setting broad national standards that states
will interpret according to local needs.
we think we came up with a set of recommendations that enjoyed
bipartisan agreement, which was essential. We think those recommendations,
if adopted, would keep Florida, or anything like it, from ever
happening again. They would restore trust in the way our elections
are administered. They would modernize the infrastructure of democracy
that we hold out as a model to the world.
would define success as the adoption of those recommendations
by the federal government or the adoption of particular recommendations
that we made to state governments. We think were enjoying
success on both accounts.
What present or upcoming projects are you focusing on now?
The center is steadily pursuing its historical work, especially
in the Presidential Recordings Project and the Presidential Oral
History project. The latter works with recent presidents to document
the history of their administrations through recording the recollections
of all of their top officials. The center is also turning to other
contemporary problems, especially in the realm of homeland security.
Do you have any ideas for increasing student participation in,
or awareness and understanding of, the Miller Center programs?
Weve been actively publicizing our events on Grounds and
working with leading student organizations, such as the debating
societies and the International Relations Organization, to help
persuade students to visit the North Grounds and take advantage
of some of the opportunities for them here.
employ a number of students, both undergraduate and graduates,
in our research efforts. Further, we sponsor a national fellowships
program that each year solicits applications to select the most
promising graduate work in public policy and political institutions.
We award interdisciplinary fellowships to the most deserving scholars
selected by that competition. These fellowships have been especially
beneficial to a number of graduate students at the University
Miller Center scholars teach in the politics and history departments
of the College of Arts and Sciences and make a major contribution
to the curriculum of the college.
Before you came to the Miller Center, you taught at Harvard and
served on the National Security Council staff during the Gulf
War. And President Bush recently appointed you to the Presidents
Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. What do your previous experiences
and your time at the Miller Center bring to your work on the board?
My previous experiences and my academic work give me a richer
base of knowledge to draw upon in seeing how contemporary problems
have echoes in prior experience. That experience and the knowledge
that I can gain from the Miller Centers research work helps
suggest a richer menu of opportunities and concerns than might
otherwise be apparent in the day-to-day turmoil of events.
What is your vision for the physical expansion presently taking
place at the Miller Center?
Id like to bring all our scholars into one place. We rent
space in two different sites away from the Miller Center to house
all of our programs. When the new building is completed, we will
have all the Miller Center community in one spot; that community
will be one of the most interesting places to work and study for
anyone who is interested in the recent history of the American
government and the workings of its political institutions. We
will also have an outstanding archive through which we can make
the fruits of our research available to the rest of the world.