Reagan in Bloomington Illinois

Ronald Reagan and Walt Bittner, mayor of the city of Bloomington, Illinois, visit together on Reagan's trip to Bloomington, Illinois in 1976, during Regan's unsuccessful run for the White House. (Pantagraph file photo)

For The Pantagraph

EUREKA — Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will be among noted politicians, journalists and authors who will be part of a four-day “Reagan 101” course at Eureka College next week.

Best-selling author Craig Shirley, who has written two books about former President Ronald Reagan, will focus on Reagan’s presidential campaigns as the college’s first Visiting Reagan Scholar.

The free course will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. C-SPAN plans to record the first class as part of its Lectures in History series. An air date hasn’t been announced.

Shirley said historians on the left and right are “coming to judge him (Reagan) as one of the most consequential presidents in history.”

In 1980, Reagan “sent America off in a radically different direction” and introduced “a new conservatism,” Shirley said.

As a Visiting Reagan Scholar, Shirley also will meet individually with Eureka College students, Provost Philip Cavalier said.

The idea behind the Visiting Reagan Scholar program is to bring in people who not only can do research at Eureka College’s library but also provide students with insights into Reagan or the presidency and “give students access they wouldn’t normally have,” he said.

“The Reagan legacy is an important part of the college,” Cavalier said. Reagan graduated in 1932 and returned several times to his alma mater.

Originally, Reagan 101 participants were to be charged a fee. But the Ronald Reagan Society of Eureka College provided sponsorship so the course could be offered free.

“We thought it was best to just allow people access to the course,” said John Morris, the society’s director.

Morris said the society and the college are “pretty excited” that C-SPAN will telecast one of the classes.

“It allows us to extend our educational impact beyond the people who will be here for the course,” he said.

In addition to Gingrich, other guests who will be part of the class via a Skype video link include Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, best-selling author Peggy Noonan and Joe Scarborough, host of “Morning Joe” on MSNBC.

Shirley intends to introduce each guest, have them make broad observations about Reagan’s impact, then open the session to questions from class participants.

“For me, in a professional capacity, this is one of the highlights of my life to teach at the same college where Ronald Reagan received his bachelor’s degree,” Shirley said. “He loved the school.”

Shirley’s 2005 book, “Reagan’s Revolution: The Untold Story of the Campaign That Started It All,” focuses on Reagan’s challenge of Gerald Ford in the 1976 Republican primaries. His 2009 book, “Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America,” examines Reagan’s successful 1980 campaign to unseat Jimmy Carter.

Shirley said Reagan’s impact “will continue to grow and expand, in part, because we’ve had a paucity of good presidents.”

He described George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama as “mediocre” presidents.

“I’m a conservative, but I’m also a historian,” he said.

One of the keys that made Reagan a good president was his combination of high intelligence and high common sense, Shirley said, listing Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt as other presidents with that combination.

“That’s what makes the greatness,” Shirley said. “That’s what makes these presidents stand out.”

Reagan 101

Who: Best-selling author Craig Shirley

What: In-depth look at the campaigns of Ronald Reagan, how they impacted politics then and what endures today.

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday

Where: Eureka College Cerf Center, Monday; Burgess Memorial Hall, Tuesday-Thursday

How: Free; register at 309-467-6319

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