The American Assembly

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The American Assembly, a non-partisan public policy forum, was founded in 1950 by Dwight D. Eisenhower and has become his most enduring achievement and legacy as Columbia University president. In his memoirs, Eisenhower acknowledged that the Assembly had far exceeded his expectations. [1]

In 1948, the board of Columbia University agreed to a unique arrangement for a university president that allowed Eisenhower to spend much of his time working on behalf of The American Assembly. In his book, At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends,[2] Eisenhower wrote that his inspiration for the Assembly went back to his concerns about how to resolve the enormous social, economic, and political quandaries thrust upon the nation after World War II. He came to believe that by marshalling the intellectual power across a range of sectors, thoughtful men and women could address difficult problems and identify wise solutions. This idea captivated him and was an absorbing pursuit throughout his first year as Columbia president. His conviction that imaginative and profound thought could help to resolve national public policy concerns became the framework for a new organization that he christened “The American Assembly.” He gave it the short mandate “to illuminate issues of national policy.” [3]

In the late 1940s only a handful of public policy institutions existed and structured conferences were a new and evolving form of exchange for the citizenry. Since its inaugural program, The American Assembly has initiated hundreds of national projects and many more subsequent programs throughout the United States and the world. Over the years the Assembly has perfected a technique allowing thousands of participants representing a range of views, interests, and backgrounds to come together to discuss major public policy issues and work out wise solutions. The American Assembly has met Eisenhower’s goals by sponsoring research on a vast range of topics, domestic and foreign, organizing meetings, issuing reports of findings and recommendations, and by commissioning books. Through its published reports and books, it has provided leading law, policy, and decision makers and the general public, schools, and other educational institutions with materials for their own Assembly projects. The Assembly maintains ongoing relationships with a number of institutions that hold their own American Assemblies, such as the U.S. Air Force Academy, which has cosponsored an annual Academy Assembly since 1959. The Assembly has also spawned several autonomous institutions that have been founded following co-sponsoring Assembly programs.

The American Assembly has engaged in issues that range from business, arts and culture, and philanthropy, to the economy, education, race, religion, and security. Notable recent projects include “The Future of the Western Hemisphere: A Shared Vision Toward 2015,” “Art, Technology, and Intellectual Property,” “The Future of the Accounting Profession,” “The Creative Campus,” “Retooling for Growth: Building a 21st Century Economy in America’s Older Industrial Areas,” and “The Next Generation Project: U.S. Global Policy and the Future of International Institutions.”

In 2006, The American Assembly’s Next Generation Project set out to discover fresh perspectives about U.S. global policy by identifying and engaging the best emerging young talent from a wide range of vocations and regions of the country growing in economic and political importance. The American Assembly convened three-day meetings in Dallas for the Southwest, San Diego for the West Coast, Denver for the Mountain States, and Chicago for the Midwest. Nearly three hundred of the country’s brightest emerging leaders with a diverse range of views and interests, and from multiple professional, geographic, and demographic backgrounds, were identified as Next Generation Project Fellows and participated in the Assemblies. Young businessmen and women from cutting edge biotech and information technology firms, leaders from NGOs, the media, religious organizations, and the military actively participated. Rising stars from the UN, the IMF, and the World Bank, and decision makers from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the National Security Council all participated as well as political leaders from the state and local level. A National Assembly primarily drawing on fellows from preceding Assemblies was held in Washington, DC as the culminating program in the series. The success of the project is marked by the continued interest of its fellows network and an expanding consortium of partner institutions.

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  1. ^ Travis Jacobs, the leading scholar of Eisenhower’s presidency at Columbia, has researched, in extraordinary detail, Eisenhower’s conception for the Assembly, his campaign for its support, and the events that led to the Assembly’s inaugural meeting at Arden House in 1951. His monograph, Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Founding of The American Assembly, was published in 2004.
  2. ^ Eisenhower, Dwight D. (1988) At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends excerpt and text search
  3. ^,9171,805599,00.html