Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft will be delivering a public address on Wednesday, March 6, at 7:30 p.m. in York Performance Hall and speaking in chapel the following day, Thursday, March 7, at 11 a.m.
Ashcroft served as governor and senator for the state of Missouri before being nominated for the cabinet position by George W. Bush in 2000. He would head the Department of Justice between 2001 and 2005, at the height of the US response to 9/11.
President John Pistole says that it is an honor to host Ashcroft, calling him a “distinguished public servant.”
“He is a man of integrity and a strong advocate for Christian higher education who has ‘been there, done that,’” said Pistole.
Dr. Michael Frank, professor of political science, has been involved in arranging Ashcroft’s visit.
“We’ve been talking about bringing Ashcroft here for two or three years,” said Frank. “This turned out to be the right time.”
Frank says that, although most students do not remember the events of 9/11, the event has affected the way the U.S. handles issues of national security.
“I know that the average student attending AU right now has no recollection of 9/11,” he said. “But the impact that 9/11 has had on our intelligence community and our homeland security is profound.”
Frank encourages students to take advantage of the opportunity to engage with someone who was present in the decision-making process of some of the most important changes to the U.S. national security environment.
As attorney general, Ashcroft played a major role in several reforms, “not the least of which is the Patriot Act, which is very much the handiwork of Ashcroft.”
While Ashcroft was not in charge of the National Security Agency’s metadata collection program, as head of the DOJ he had to sign off on it as it would involve American citizens in contact with foreign nationals.
Both of these were deeply controversial at the time and they continue to be subject to intense debate and criticism.
“He was on the frontlines of some of the most controversial steps taken by the executive branch post 9/11 in order to create a more homeland for U.S. citizens,” said Frank. “I hope that our students really address that. How do you make a decision about the trade-off between our rights to privacy and our needs for security?”
Ashcroft joins a long list of distinguished public servants who have visited AU in the last two years, including Eric Holder, James Clapper, John Brennan and Robert Mueller.
There will be a student briefing session for department majors offered during this visit, which is a unique opportunity that Frank intentionally makes for students. One hour of each visitor’s schedule is dedicated to answering questions from students studying national security.
“Students get unprecedented access to key policymakers,” Frank said. “You would have to be one of the best of the best students at one of the elite universities on the east coast to get that kind of access. Here, our students get this in the middle of central Indiana.”
These encounters provide a real benefit for students. Senior officials typically portrayed as larger-than-life in the news are often times humanized through these experiences.
“Eric Holder was making jokes with our students,” said Frank. He also said Holder was impressed by the students and has spoken highly of AU.
“It’s really important that students realize that they can actually hold their own sitting in a room with that kind of person,” said Frank.
“There is a sense of confidence from being able to experience something that is going to benefit students in the long-run.”
Mikki Moore, a junior national securities and criminal justice major, was one of the selected students for the briefing session with former Attorney General Holder last September.
“He was really laid-back and humble,” Moore said of Holder.
“I think one of the biggest realizations for me is that they are human too,” she said. “They’re just like us. You know, someday that might be me or that might be one of my classmates.”
Moore remembers the most influential things she learned from Holder.
“One of my favorite things that he said is that your worldview impacts everything that you do, so you have to think really carefully about what you want to be remembered for,” said Moore. “That was something that really influenced me in how I have been trying to make my decisions, not only career-wise but also in my personal life.”
Moore believes it will be interesting to compare her experience with Holder to her experience with Ashcroft.
“I’m looking forward to comparing and contrasting the two,” she said. “It’s a crazy opportunity to meet two different attorneys general.”