History of the McCall Center for Civic Engagement

Civic engagement has been at the heart of Pacific University’s mission since its founding. The Humanitarian Center was founded in 1988 by a unanimous vote of faculty, and in 2009 became the Center for Civic Engagement. The Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation launched in 2010. In 2018 a merger between these two campus units led us to become the McCall Center for Civic Engagement.

The McCall name has a long and storied history at Pacific University.

For 25 years, Pacific hosted the Tom McCall Forum, bringing prominent liberal and conservative figures to debate national issues. The forum started in 1982, with a debate on “The Moral Majority” between Cal Thomas, conservative syndicated columnist, and liberal political activist Sam Brown.

Other debaters over the years included Pat Buchanan, Tom Daschle, Howard Dean, Richard Perle, Molly Ivins, William Kristol, Bill Bradley, David Gergen, Ralph Nader, Newt Gingrich, Ralph Reed, Alan Dershowitz, James Carville, Mary Matalin, William Safire, John Sununu, Pierre Salinger, Robert Bork, Jesse Jackson, Mario Cuomo and Dan Quayle.

The popularity of the event led to its move off campus to downtown Portland in the early 1990s. The forum’s high-level debates also led to several installments being broadcast on C-SPAN, including the 2005 debate between Howard Dean, then-chair of the Democratic National Committee, and Richard Perle, considered one of the architects of the war in Iraq, in which a spectator threw a shoe at Perle.

The final installment of the Tom McCall Forum was in 2007, when Lee Hamilton and John Bolton discussed U.S. foreign policy. That installment was planned to feature then-Sen. John Edwards and Secretary Jack Kemp, until Edwards withdrew and announced his candidacy in the 2008 presidential election.

The forum — and, today, the center — were named for Tom McCall, an Oregon politician and journalist.

McCall was born in Massachusetts but raised in Central Oregon. He graduated from Redmond (Ore.) High School and the University of Oregon. He worked as a journalist for The Oregonian, KGW radio, KPTV (Oregon’s first TV station) and KGW-TV. He led early efforts to help migrant workers, and he hosted a documentary that brought public and legislative attention to pollution in Oregon.

A Republican, he was elected Secretary of State in 1964, then was elected governor in 1966 and re-elected in 1970. During his tenure, Oregon passed the country’s first “bottle bill,” cleaned up the Willamette River, passed a law to continue public ownership of the state’s beaches, and introduced urban growth boundaries around the state’s cities. (McCall also is credited with the country’s only state-sponsored rock festival — an attempt to divert clashes between antiwar groups and the American Legion in the summer of 1970.)

Following his governorship, McCall returned to journalism as a columnist and commentator. He ran for governor again in 1978, but lost in the primary to Victor G. Atiyeh, who became governor.

McCall died of prostate cancer on Jan. 8, 1983, at the age of 69.

In 1998, McCall was inducted into the Hall of Achievement at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism.

There is a life-size bronze statue of McCall in Salem’s Riverfront Park.

Many places in Oregon also bear McCall’s name in honor of his legacy. In addition to the former Tom McCall Forum and now the Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, there also is the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in downtown Portland; a Nature Conservancy preserve in Wasco County; Tom McCall East Upper Elementary School in Forest Grove; and Tom McCall Elementary School in Redmond.