Thirty years after it started, the Tom McCall Forum is remembered as an experiment that exceeded expectations, bringing national leaders to Pacific’s backyard to debate the hot issues of the day.
The legacy lives on today as the new Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation empowers Pacific University students to be active citizens and gives them a voice in local politics, campaigns and policymaking.Jenni Luckett | Editor
The year was 1982.
On the right: syndicated columnist Cal Thomas.
On the left: Vietnam-era anti-war activist Sam Brown.
The topic: the Moral Majority, still in its infancy lobbying for evangelical Christian values in American politics.
The debate—the brainchild of Pacific University Professor Russ Dondero—would become the first installment of the Tom McCall Forum.
The Forum ended in 2007, the same year that Dondero retired.
In its wake, though, Pacific founded the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation. Carrying on the legacy of political involvement and the memory of the late Oregon politician and journalist, McCall, the Center strives to build more campus-centered interaction between students and policymakers, said Director Jim Moore.
Thirty years ago, the Forum was an experiment, posited by Dondero in response to a call to find new ways to retain students. It started on a shoe-string budget, with a debate in the gym, a banquet in the University Commons. By 1991, though, the event outgrew Pacific’s campus and moved to downtown Portland, eventually drawing crowds of 2,000 to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.
For Dondero, the event was always about students: attracting them to Pacific, giving them an opportunity to connect with political leaders, inspiring them to internships and lives of civic engagement. It also became an opportunity to bring the seminal policymakers of the time to Oregon.
“I always viewed the Forum as a large classroom, not only for students, but for the larger community,” Dondero said. “It was a chance for people to sit down and think about important topics.”
The year is 2012.
Today, the Tom McCall Center is working to bring the focus back to local issues that connect to Pacific students. The Center has teamed up with other campus groups to sponsor the Tribal Leaders Lecture Series, and it hosted a debate between candidates for Oregon Congressional District 1. It supports student and faculty research around politics and government, and it seeks to make Pacific a center for local and regional elections.
“We want to make Forest Grove and Pacific a definitive stop that every candidate has to make,” Moore said.