The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy was established in 2003 with a Congressionally-funded endowment and a mission to educate and promote research to further the public’s knowledge of our system of governance and to highlight the critical importance of public service. Senator Howard Baker, along with a dedicated board, inaugural Executive Director Alan Lowe, long-serving Associate Director Nissa Dahlin-Brown, and staff, were committed to the growth and development of the Center. From its humble beginnings in Hoskins Library on the University of Tennessee’s Knoxville campus, to its move into a 51,000 square foot facility on Cumberland Avenue in 2008, the Center focused on four main areas: public programs, archives, research, and civic education and engagement.
In 2005, plans were announced to build a new facility to house the center to include a museum on government, a 100-collection archives, classrooms, and meeting rooms. Completed in 2008, the new building was celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony that included Vice President Dick Cheney, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.), Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and U.S. Representative John Duncan. The staff expanded to eight to run the facility, promote the museum, and administer the new Modern Political Archives (MPA).
In 2009, Alan Lowe left to become director of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Carl Pierce, a University of Tennessee law professor, was appointed executive director. In 2012, the museum was closed and responsibility for the Modern Political Archives was transferred to UT Libraries Special Collections. As a result, staff was reduced and segments of the museum were moved into locations throughout the building. Some exhibits were also located in the Senator’s hometown of Huntsville, TN, at local public schools.
In 2012, Dr. Matthew Murray, professor of economics and associate director of the University’s Boyd Center for Business & Economic Research, was appointed executive director of the center. A revised mission and new focus on policy research in the areas of Energy and Environment, Global Security, and Leadership and Governance was adopted, along with academic courses and additional student engagement programs. Under the leadership of Dr. Murray, the Center’s research and instructional capacity increased significantly, facilitated by the hiring of jointly-appointed faculty and establishing a fellows program that created research capacity and expertise in the Center’s focus areas. Murray also helped the center gain solid financial footing by securing grant funding and growing the center’s endowment. Senator Baker continued to be engaged with the Baker Center until his death on June 26, 2014.
In 2021, Dr. Murray retired and stepped down as executive director. Dr. Marianne Wanamaker, a University of Tennessee professor of economics and former member of The White House Council of Economic Advisors, was selected by a University-wide search committee as the next executive director of the center. Her appointment began in July 2021.
Becoming the Baker School
In early 2022, Chancellor Donde Plowman and Provost John Zomchick commissioned a taskforce to examine the conversion of the Baker Center into a school of public policy. Read the Task Force Report to learn more about the group’s findings and recommendations.
Based on the taskforce’s findings that the State of Tennessee is not currently served by a school of public policy, and that academic programs in the area of public policy and public affairs would serve the state’s workforce needs, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees approved the transformation of the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy into the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs in February 2023.
On July 1, 2023, the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy became the Howard H. Baker Jr. School of Public Policy and Public Affairs. The University’s Masters in Public Policy and Public Affairs is a Baker School degree as of August 2023. Degrees for undergraduate students are expected in fall 2024.
The Baker School’s mission is to educate skilled public problem solvers grounded in the legacy of Howard Baker and prepared to take public leadership roles. Baker School students are part of the University’s goal to Be Part of the Solution.