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Secretary of Education, 1993-2001


Materials relating to Riley’s terms as Secretary of Education are the most extensive in the collection. Included in the subseries are Schedules, Travel, and Administrative files on the management of the Department of Education.

Administrative papers include correspondence with ED staff which demonstrates the high esteem his employees had for him.

Briefing Book files span nearly the entire eight years of Riley’s tenure and contain copies of briefing materials prepared almost daily for Riley. The files generally contain memos and background information for meetings and events, schedules for Riley and his deputy, talking points and speeches, and often Riley’s own notes.

A Cabinet/Clinton Administration subseries relates to Riley’s Cabinet and administration duties, including White House and other events, and Riley’s and ED’s contributions to President Clinton’s State of the Union addresses and policy papers. Also present are agendas, background materials, and notes from Cabinet meetings and briefings throughout Clinton’s two terms.

Topical papers from the Secretary of Education era relate primarily to education, although there are files regarding other issues, such as the 1993 Clinton economic program, health care reform proposals, and foreign affairs, primarily relating to Ireland and Northern Ireland, including the 1998 Belfast peace agreement. Riley, proud of his family roots in County Cavan, was a frequent visitor to Ireland as Secretary, working on a number of cooperative education projects, and he was even mentioned as a potential ambassador to Ireland in 1998.

Topical education files reflect many facets of the education realm, including private and religious schools, assessment, and Title I programs. Among the most extensive files are those relating to higher education, including on student loans, in which the Department of Education had a direct role.

Also, of significance are files on Congressional relations and on education funding. Riley was a very active and visible advocate with lawmakers, although ED sometimes found opposition from both the left and the right. Prominent names represented in the Congressional files include Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Bill Goodling (R-PA). Goodling, a former teacher, served as chair of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce from 1995 to 2001, and although they did not always see eye to eye, he said of Riley, “He’s a wonderful individual…I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t like him even if they don’t agree with him.” Numerous files document the development and passage of Goals 2000. Others include research and information on pressing education problems such as class size, growing violence in schools, and the rapidly escalating need for additional technology in classrooms. A continuing theme from Riley’s earlier reforms in South Carolina was an emphasis on community and family involvement in education; several files show ED’s and Riley’s work in this area, which he considered essential. Riley and his staff—including his Chief Education Counsel while Governor and Secretary, South Carolinian Terry Peterson, and 1985 South Carolina and National Teacher of the Year, Terry Dozier—also worked hard to establish and maintain a national network of active teachers with whom the Department could consult. Riley’s popularity and success in his role as Secretary, as well as his close relationship with Clinton, led to frequent speculation about other roles he might take on. In addition to the Irish ambassadorship, potential positions mentioned included White House Chief of Staff and an appointment to the Supreme Court. In a remarkable example of Riley’s ability to maintain good relationships even with former opponents, his onetime rival for the governorship, Brantley Harvey, wrote in an unsolicited letter to President Clinton in 1994: I have been a member of the South Carolina Bar with your distinguished Secretary of Education, Richard Riley, for 35 years. We served together in the South Carolina General Assembly for a number of years. I was defeated by him in the 1978 Democratic Primary for the governorship of South Carolina and then served under him, and by his appointment, as a Commissioner of the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation & Tourism. I feel that I know Dick Riley well as a practicing attorney, as a progressive and activist state legislator, and as a fine governor. While Dick has never served in the judicial branch of government, I feel that he has all of the attributes to make an excellent Supreme Court Justice. He is fair-minded and even-handed. He is intelligent and knowledgeable, and quick to grasp the major issues in any dispute. He knows and understands people from the working person to the CEO. As you well know, Dick is progressive but certainly not radical. He understands politics (in the highest sense of that term) but would not let that interfere with his decisions as a Justice. I sincerely recommend to you and encourage your appointment of Richard Riley as a Justice to the United States Supreme Court. Riley responded to Harvey, “I was personally moved by the sincerity of your letter to the President. If I was writing to him about you and your professional & personal life, it would be just as strong. Thank you so much…. Since my real love is education & I feel so lucky to serve in this position, I have informed our friends in the White House that I am not a candidate for the Court. However, I am deeply honored & somewhat shocked by being considered. But your unsolicited expression of friendship makes this whole conversation worthwhile to me. I shall never forget your letter.”


  • 1993-2001


From the Collection: 138 Linear Feet (138 boxes)


Repository Details

Part of the South Carolina Political Collections Repository

Ernest F. Hollings Special Collections Library
1322 Greene St.
University of South Carolina
Columbia SC 29208 USA