Lawrence named Public Policy Institute director

By Gus Bode

Appointment awaits ratification by BOT

Mike Lawrence was named the new director of SIUC’s Public Policy Institute Tuesday, ending a nationwide search that began after the death of its founder, the late Sen. Paul Simon.

Lawrence joined the Institute as associate director in 1997 and has been serving as the Institute’s interim director since December. He was chosen from a pool of 17 applicants, four of which were finalists for the position. His appointment, which became effective Oct. 1, is still subject to ratification by the SIU Board of Trustees.


Lawrence said he is honored to have the opportunity to build on what Simon accomplished at the Institute.

“In a macro sense, I hope to leave my own mark, but I want to be faithful to Paul’s vision for the Institute,” Lawrence said. “And to make a difference in ways that he would appreciate.”

Simon’s daughter, Sheila Simon, a professor in the School of Law and a Carbondale city councilwoman, said that Lawrence’s knowledge of the Institute makes him the right man for the job,

“I am thrilled that he is the director,” said Simon, who served on the search committee. “He had worked with Dad for so long there is no doubt he knows what dad would have intended for the direction of the Institute.”

Simon said the diverse pool of qualified applicants speaks well for the future of the Institute.

Provost and Vice Chancellor John M. Dunn, who announced Lawrence’s appointment, said the committee thoroughly considered each of the candidates. He said Lawrence was an excellent choice.

“He has a very high standing within the state of Illinois, the region and around campus,” Dunn said. “[Paul Simon and Lawrence] were not of the same political party, but they certainly shared a common vision with respect to the importance of the Public Policy Institute and its direction.”


Lawrence said the Institute has an ambitious agenda for the year, including a plan to improve and expand health care in rural areas of Southern Illinois. Lawrence said the Institute would also lead a significant effort to change how legislative districts are drawn in Illinois.

Bruce Dold, Pulitzer Prize winner and editorial page editor of the Chicago Tribune, worked with Lawrence when they were both reporters covering the Illinois legislature. He said Lawrence’s appointment is tremendous news for the Institute.

“He’s a student of government, just the kind of person the Institute needs in its leadership,” Dold said in an e-mail interview. “Mike will continue to enhance the visibility and stature of the Institute through his immense network of friends and admirers throughout the state.”

Ellen Soeteber, the editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said Lawrence, who writes a column published for the newspaper, is an excellent choice for the position.

Soeteber, who first got to know Lawrence when he was former Gov. Jim Edgar’s press secretary and she was deputy editor of the Chicago Tribune’s Editorial Board, said in an e-mail interview that Lawrence is terrifically nice guy – even when he is calling to complain.

“Gov. Edgar did not always like what we wrote on the editorial pages, and one of Mike’s occasional assignments was to call me or another editorial board member to complain,” Soeteber said. “He always handled this assignment with such grace that sometimes I didn’t realize I’d been bawled out until after I got off the phone.”

Charles Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said that when Lawrence worked as a journalist, he was the epitome of everything a reporter should be.

Wheeler, who’s known Lawrence since the early 1970s, said he was a very important figure in shaping public policy in Illinois during his time as Edgar’s press secretary.

“He is a person of unquestionable integrity, someone who is a good person to follow Paul Simon in that same mode of being a very honorable public servant,” Wheeler said.

“It’s the kind of opportunity and challenge that Mike will do very well at and it really bodes well for the future of the institution,” Wheeler said. “The University made a very wise decision.”