The Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics encourages civic engagement and inspires enlightened dialogue by bringing students, scholars, activists, policymakers, and communities together to discuss issues affecting Oregon, our nation, and the world. The Wayne Morse Center trains future public leaders to reach beyond partisan labels and conflicts to encourage fresh thinking and effective solutions to public problems. It carries on the fighting spirit and political independence of Oregon’s Senator Wayne Morse by promoting education and research to advance justice and democracy.
The Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics was established in 1981. Funds for the Morse Chair came primarily from contributions to a memorial fund that was established in 1974 following the death of Senator Morse. Charles Porter, a longtime friend and member of the U.S. House of Representatives, spearheaded fundraising along with staff at the UO. The U.S. Congress also contributed $190,849 under a challenge grant operated from the Department of Education.
A significant gift by Ed Conklin permitted expansion of the activities of the Morse Chair. The Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics was created in 1999 as a result of his gift that also funded the Wayne Morse Commons in the Knight Law Center. Margaret Hallock, who played an indispensable role in establishing the center, became the director.
Ed Conklin was a retired court reporter and friend of Wayne Morse. When Morse, then dean of the UO Law School, arbitrated a grievance between the longshoremen and the Waterfront Employers Association in 1938 for the Port of San Francisco, Conklin served as court reporter. During a 1995 interview, Conklin said that it was Morse’s stubborn adherence to procedure that first brought the two men together: “Some arbitrators [had] lunch with the union or with the representatives of the employer. It was probably purely social but could have the appearance of impropriety. Wayne didn’t have anything to do with something like that, so he and I, being the only two nonpartisan neutrals there, were thrown together by default.”
Conklin and Morse’s dedication and shared politics made them lasting colleagues and close friends. Conklin raised money for Morse’s Senate race during the 1940s and remained a strong supporter of Morse’s political career. Morse once said that if it hadn’t been for Conklin, he would never have been elected a United States Senator.
But in 1995 Conklin told Margaret Hallock, then co-chair of the Morse Chair Committee, that he didn’t buy Morse’s statement. “I take the position that he would have gotten there some way, and I just made things less difficult.”
Conklin agreed with many who called Morse “the ablest man in the Senate.” He told Hallock, “There’s no question he contributed much as a United States Senator. There’s no question that if the country had followed his exhortations on Vietnam, the country would not have been involved in it. [Morse] used to tell me that in the cloakroom, senators would approach and say, ‘You’re right, Wayne. But I come from a conservative state and if I took that position, I would never be re-elected.’”
During his lifetime and as part of his bequest, Conklin donated more than $2 million to the UO Law School, the bulk of it in support of the endowed chair established in 1981 in Morse’s memory. After Conklin’s death in 1997, his wife, Fran, fulfilled the wishes of her late husband by overseeing the gift from his estate to the University of Oregon that funded the Law School Commons, the Morse Chair office, and launched the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics. When Fran Conklin passed away in 2009, the Center received the remainder of the gift from the Conklin estate in the amount of $2.1 million.
Conklin’s generous contribution to the University of Oregon in honor of his friend and colleague are a testimony to the dedication and public service of both men.