to the study of the U.S. government, with a special emphasis
on the presidency, the Miller Center of Public Affairs has
long enjoyed the respect and involvement of members of the
Executive Branch, especially in efforts to address contemporary
policy issues. It has the advantage of a favorable distance
from Washington (beyond the Beltway, but not too far removed
from the seats of power), and it is scrupulously non-partisan.
The Miller Center is as trusted by members of the Carter and
Clinton administrations as by those who occupied the Reagan
and Bush White Houses. More recently, it has raised its stature
in the scholarly community, earning a strong reputation for
basic research on political history and American political
Envision discussion (the first devoted to a center rather
than a school) revealed that the Miller Center now finds itself
at a crossroads. With mature programs, a handsome and newly
expanded facility, institutional autonomy, and a solid base
of support, it has reached a plateau. The Envision session
helped the Miller Center's staff and supporters consider
possible futures, taking into account the center's role
in the University, how it can contribute to student and faculty
work elsewhere on the Grounds, and how it can reach out to
participants urged the center to do more to capitalize on
its connection with the University. Others sought to understand
its relationships with programs that on the surface would
seem to have comparable missions, such as the Center for Politics
and the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership. Still
others believe the University should do more to help the Miller
Center build stronger connections with the institution.
Strengths in Scholarship
Thanks in part to improved ties to the departments of history
and politics, the Miller Center is now held in high regard
for the quality of its scholarship. The presidential tapes
project has made the center a magnet for graduate and undergraduate
students who relish the opportunity to do groundbreaking work
with primary sources. The center also has created what was
described as a greenhouse for scholarship in American political
history and has established a very distinctive reputation
in the field. Headed by Brian Balogh in history and Sidney
Milkis in politics, the program now offers what is arguably
the premier dissertation fellowship in political history,
drawing the best applicants from history, sociology, and political
science departments in the country.
Furthermore, top scholars in this field seek opportunities
to speak at the Miller Center and to take part in its programs.
A series of highly successful colloquia and a recent conference
on the Great Society organized by Professor Milkis attest
the Miller Center's ability to attract eminent scholars
and to make significant contributions to the study of political
history. These scholars in turn are now eager to send their
best graduate students to the Miller Center. Over three years,
the program has supported twenty-one graduate fellows, including
six students from U.Va. who compare quite favorably with their
peers from other top institutions.
Miller Center gains tremendous visibility through its national
commissions, such as its study of presidents with medical
disabilities and the recent study of the presidential election
process in the wake of the Florida recount controversy. A
special project on homeland defense is now in the offing.
The University can point to this work as fulfilling many of
its Virginia 2020 goals in public service and outreach.
relationships with the politics and history departments have
helped to increase the Miller Center's involvement in
the University. Director Philip Zelikow and other Miller Center
scholars teach in the history department, and workshops held
on Grounds attract participants ranging from graduate students
to senior faculty. More graduate students are seeking the
opportunity to work with the center's faculty and to
work for the center as student employees.
help to organize the Miller Center Forum program, which brings
in current and former Washington officials, high-profile journalists,
and distinguished scholars. Students also play a key role
in the center's oral history program, led by James Young,
which is recording the recollections of members of past administrations.
Regarded as the custodian of the memories of former presidents,
the program has built a network of participating scholars
stretching from Harvard to New Mexico State University.
Faculty attendance in the Forum programs has risen significantly,
but the Miller Center has had difficulty attracting undergraduates
to the series. In fact, more high school students come to
these programs than University students. This is due in part
to the center's location. Although its off-the-beaten-path
setting is clearly one of its charms for researchers, the
Miller Center falls outside students' traditional traffic
patterns. The center has offered special shuttles from Central
Gounds, but with mixed success. One suggested remedy would
be to give students an incentive to attend Forum sessions,
such as extra credit for class. Faculty should also do more
to promote the center's speakers in their classes. In
the end, it was noted that students whose studies are focused
on political history find their way to the Miller Center without
Envision participants discussed the possibility of taking
the Miller Center's programs on the road, perhaps through
the Alumni Association. One idea would be to build a program
around a single theme, such as terrorism or homeland security,
and take it to cities such as Atlanta, New York, and other
locations with large concentrations of U.Va. alumni.
As the discussion turned to ideas that would attract transformational
gifts, it was suggested that the Miller Center consider becoming
a place where visiting scholars or high-profile practitioners
could spend a year to conduct focused research or complete
a writing project. Another suggestion was to create a "trinity
program" that would bring together visiting scholars,
practitioners, and disseminators (i.e., journalists).
were raised about the benefits of these ideas. Would such
programs contribute to the teaching mission of the University
and/or advance the Miller Center's research efforts?
Would funding be better used to support senior scholars on
the full-time faculty or the center's fellowship program?
The fellowship program cultivates a cadre of the best young
scholars whose research contributes to the Miller Center's
and the University's academic mission. Given the Miller
Center's emphasis on graduate education, more donors
should be helping to fund fellowships for the center, it was
suggested. A Jefferson Scholar fellowship and an international
fellowship for the center were raised as possibilities.
the Miller Center's objectives with the University's
mission was cited as a necessary step toward fulfilling the
center's potential. The center is primarily focused
on research and has exceptional ability to create dynamic
interaction between the academic and governmental spheres.
By linking these activities to the University's primary
mission of education and undergraduate life, the Miller Center
would achieve greater prominence within and outside the University
community. Moreover, it was noted, closer identification with
the University would help the Miller Center to attract more
of the discussion focused on collaborative links between the
Miller Center and other programs and centers working in the
area of public affairs and the democratic process. Tying together
the Miller Center, the Sorensen Institute, the Center for
Politics, the Institute for Practical Ethics, and the Center
for Religion and Democracy, such an initiative would reflect
one of the defining elements of the University—its Jeffersonian
heritage and its mandate to produce enlightened leaders for
a democratic society.
of these entities has its own culture and identity and its
own base of support. The key to building collaborations among
them, it was noted, would be to create a loose confederation
in which everyone at the table feels that their interests
are not threatened. Another incentive for collaboration is
financial support. It was suggested that the University seek
a line of federal funding that could be used to bring these
the end, the discussion focused on how the Miller Center could
help the University do something in the public affairs realm
that it is not able to do today. The Miller Center would be
willing to be a part of the team if the University can make
clear what it wants to accomplish. It was also observed that
collaborative relationships among these centers cannot be
imposed top-down. They must arise from the centers themselves.
led to the transformational idea that generated the most discussion
and the most positive response: creating an interdisciplinary
degree program or school in public policy—something
sorely and surprisingly lacking at Mr. Jefferson's university.
Many other universities – George Mason, Duke, Harvard,
University of Texas – have strong programs dedicated
to teaching public affairs. The Miller Center could play a
facilitating role in creating such a program, which could
draw on disparate but available strengths in such departments
as politics, history, sociology, and economics, as well as
law, business, medicine, education, and nursing. An essential
step would be to give someone the mandate to put this together.
discussion concluded with the observation that the University
has extraordinary assets in the public affairs arena, and
the Miller Center stands out among them. If the University
takes the lead, the Miller Center is willing to help mobilize
these assets and to use them to fulfill a strategic vision.