LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Employees at the Clinton School of Public Service (search) could have been forgiven for feeling a little overshadowed last week.
Not only is their building — a renovated 19th century train station — physically dwarfed by the nearby Clinton Presidential Library and Museum (search), but it seemed a mere afterthought during Thursday's formal dedication of the former president's archives.
The next day, however, the latest addition to the University of Arkansas system had its day in the spotlight. Actors Ted Danson (search) and Mary Steenburgen, who have ties to the state, came to offer their own star power.
The award-winning screen couple helped Clinton School Dean David Pryor, a former Arkansas governor and U.S. senator, hold the first event in the school's expansive atrium: the presentation of a youth volunteer award and the honoring of 53 Arkansas high school juniors and seniors who won an essay contest.
"I love the one-two punch of the library and the school," said Danson, a clean-water activist whose father was a museum director. "The museum captures eight years in the life and politics of Bill Clinton, and then next to it is a building all about the creating future public servants. It's brilliantly conceived."
As a part of the public university system, the school depends on state funding, which has rankled some legislators. But, Kenneth Tolo, executive director of the National Association of Schools of Public Affairs and Administration, said that misses the point.
"Yes, the Clinton School benefits from the proximity to the Clinton Library, but it is its own entity, a purely academic entity," he said.
Next fall, the Clinton School will offer what it boasts will be the world's first master's degree in public service — as opposed to more common public policy or politics programs.
Students will have access to entire volumes through an online library, along with Clinton's official White House papers at the presidential archives just a few feet across the Scholars Garden.
The archives contain 80 million documents, some of which are scheduled to be released under federal law in 2006. Clinton has promised to open 100,000 pages of private domestic policy advice a year early, in January or February.
"Think about a school without the library's archives — it's just another school," said associate dean Tom Bruce. "Now, think of the library showing the Clinton history without preparing another generation of people for the central theme of his presidency — public service."
Overlooking the atrium are the offices of the Clinton Foundation, which built the library, museum and school and pursues Clinton's post-presidential agenda of AIDS prevention and care, religious, racial and ethnic reconciliation, citizen service and minority business development.
The new school is already getting noticed. Hannah Key, 25, drove from her home in Georgia to present her candidacy for the first master's class. Her goal is to become U.S. secretary of state.
"I was planning to go to George Washington, but it stressed the more academic nature of policy and politics and it didn't appeal to me as much as the Clinton School," she said. "I'm a people person who wants to help the underprivileged. This school is more well-rounded."