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Barbara Ballard: Working for the Public Good

Barbara Ballard has dedicated her life to public service, an idea she holds close to her heart. In 1992, she was elected to the Kansas House of Representatives serving the 44th District and has been reelected ever since. Ballard has been with the University of Kansas since 1980, serving as an associate vice chancellor for student affairs, associate dean for student life and the director of the Emily Taylor Women’s Resource Center. She also teaches for Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. She joined the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics in 2004 and is the senior associate director. She has spearheaded a wide variety of civic engagement programs.

What inspired you to seek public office?

There wasn’t any one thing for me. I have been involved all my life. Early on, I was inspired by Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress in New York’s 12th Congressional District. Chisholm once said, “Service is the rent we pay for occupying space on Earth.” I bought into that and want to make a difference in the lives of others. And for those people who just don’t feel they can speak for themselves, I want to be their voice. I’m very thankful to my constituents and honored because they continue to elect me to serve.

What is the role of the Dole Institute of Politics in the political process and bipartisanship especially in relation to the November election?

Our mission remains the same regardless of whether it’s an election year or not. We don’t tell people what to think but provide the opportunity to learn from others in a bipartisan manner. Bipartisanship is key. We ensure our events are balanced on both sides of the party lines. If it’s a panel, we include a democrat and a republican. We promote civil discourse at all Dole Institute programs.

The climate is so partisan right now. How can society move back to a more collaborative spirit?

I think it’s going to take a long time because it’s been going on for a long time. But if we threw up our hands and said, “I give up,” it would never happen. Compromise must become a good word instead of a bad word. The only way we can change is to work together and respect each other as equals.

DEDICATED TO SERVICE: Barbara Ballard traces her public service back to high school when she was elected to student council. She participated in student government throughout her college career. When she came to Lawrence, Ballard served on the local public school board until she was elected as the Kansas State Representative in the 44th District.
Photo by Ann Dean
What spurred the Dole Institute to create the program, “A Conversation on Race,” and what effect do you hope to see come from it?

Our Dole Institute Student Advisory Board suggested we sponsor a program on race this summer, thus “A Conversation on Race” was born. The idea was prompted by George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, police brutality and everything else going on around the nation. These conversations are held in a respectful manner with panelists on both sides of the political spectrum who share their perspectives. Our program isn’t going to instantly change polarizing attitudes, but if we don’t talk about racism, how are we going to solve it? The conversation is about admitting there is a problem and we need to work on it — and find positive solutions.

What role does philanthropy play in supporting the Dole Institute of Politics?

Philanthropy plays a huge role. I’m always amazed at how generous people are. Donors helped make the Dole Institute possible. They respected Senator Dole’s work and what he did for Kansas and beyond. And today, donors support the work we do, such as promoting bipartisanship and getting our students involved in civic engagement on campus and statewide. Donor partnerships also sustain our outstanding museum, archive and programs at the university and for the community.


To sustain public programming at the Dole Institute, contact Sheri Hamilton at 785-832-7454 or email.

SHINING BRIGHT: During the Dole Institute’s construction, KU alumni Forrest and Sally Hoglund gifted the facility the world’s largest stained-glass representation of the American flag. The flag stands as a permanent tribute to Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole’s service to America and an inspiration to future generations who visit the Institute to learn about public service and bipartisanship. Taking 1,600 hours to create and install, the window stands 29 feet tall and weighs approximately one ton. The 960 individual glass pieces were hand painted, creating a fabric-like illusion. On sunny days, the window casts a gorgeous reflection across the floor and illuminates museum exhibits and public programs. Until recently, the iconic window was not well lit in the evening. Thanks to a generous donation of interior lighting from the Hoglunds, the hallmark image of the Institute now shines bright in both day and night.
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