Lakeland native U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross will be using two decades of political experience in a new way as distinguished professor of political science at the new American Center for Political Leadership at Southeastern University, the university announced Wednesday, October 24.

A former member of the Florida House and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Ross decided in April not to seek re-election for a fifth term. But he wants to use his experience to engage people in the political process, starting at the student level.

“My passion is the political process,” he said during an interview with The Lakelander. “That has worked to my advantage. I’ve been able to build a  network of people who have allowed me to be part of an experience that I think is being forgotten.”

Southeastern President Kent Ingle was beaming as he announced the new center, something he thinks will help students who go through it as well as the community in general.

“This marks the beginning of a brand new era at Southeastern, an era filled with passionate influence that will come from amazing students who have been coming our way,” Ingle said as he announced the center, which will be part of the Jannetides College of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership.

He said Southeastern believes that “every person has been uniquely designed to be a solution to an issue, a challenge, a problem,” and students “become the answer, the remedy, to that specific challenge or issue we face.”

The center will conduct polling and research, hold seminars, offer courses and workshops, and “prepare the next generation of political leaders and passionate citizens who aim to promote traditional American values and individual freedoms with civility, authenticity, respect and decorum in government and society,” according to a press release.

Ingle said its three main goals will be:

  • Protecting individual freedoms, cultivating civic engagement and advancing political civility.
  • Developing a best-in-class degree program with hands-on opportunities through workshops, e-courses and one-day seminars across the nation.
  • Developing a national center for advocacy for key issues.

“We want to instill a sense of responsibility and motivation to get (people) involved in the process in a positive fashion,” Ingle said. “This is not only an opportunity to touch the next generation but teach existing leaders how to stick to your principles, reach across the aisle, compromise.”

Ross says he advocates for less government, but understands others have different views.

“We don’t want bad government. The pendulum is going to swing and we are polarizing ourselves on every issue we think is the be all, end all.”  

Throughout his career, Ross has worked with politicians from other parties. For instance, he worked with  U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, a Democrat, on a joint resolution to “encourage high schools to give students an immigration and naturalization exam so they can understand what it’s like to be a citizen.” Most people don’t know the fundamental tenets on which our government was founded, he said, such as what is protected by the First Amendment.

Because schools don’t teach civics as a required curriculum, he said, a professor at Florida Southern College says he has to provide remedial education to students in political science classes “just so they can understand the political process.”

Ross’ background in politics runs deep. He started the Polk County Young Democrat party in 1976, was a student senator at the University of Florida, and has supported the YMCA’s Youth in Government program, which is a youth-run model government program that exposes those involved to the political process.

He believes a return to civility in the political process is needed, along with educating voters on the issues facing them. And, along with those, getting people to get out and vote. Only 25 percent of people eligible to vote actually vote in any given election. That means 13 percent of the electorate are dictating who runs our country and how issues are decided, Ross said.

“The right to vote comes with something equally important–education,” Ross said. “You have to educate yourself and understand what you’re voting in. Our democracy requires that.”


Be on the lookout for a full feature on Dennis Ross in our upcoming issue of The Lakelander.