UT to Celebrate Opening of New Baker Center; Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to Participate in Festivities

KNOXVILLE — The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, will celebrate the opening of its new facility on Friday, Oct. 31, with the help of U.S. Supreme Court Justice (Ret.) Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr.
Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr.
The 53,000-square-foot center at 1640 Cumberland Ave. was built at a cost of $17 million, funded entirely by private dollars.

A variety of events are scheduled for the grand opening:

– Dedication ceremonies for invited guests will take place at the new building on Friday morning. In addition to O’Connor, other dignitaries scheduled to attend grand opening events include Gov. Phil Bredesen; U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker; and U.S. Rep. John Duncan.

– O’Connor — the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court — will give a free public lecture at 2 p.m. Friday in the Alumni Memorial Building’s Cox Auditorium. Parking is available for a fee in the University Center garage on Phillip Fulmer Way.

– The new building will be open to the public from 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Friday and again from 1 to 3 p.m. on Saturday. On Friday, parking is available for a fee in the University Center garage; on Saturday, street parking may be available.

Sen. Baker, who earned his law degree from UT Knoxville and has been a longtime supporter of the university, served three terms as a U.S. senator and rose to national prominence during the Watergate hearings of 1973-74 as vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress awarded UT a $6 million post-secondary education grant to assist in establishing the Baker Center. Tennesseans serving in Congress at the time, including Sens. Bill Frist and Fred Thompson, said it was appropriate that Baker’s leadership skills and contributions to public service be studied and copied.

The Baker Center, housed in UT’s Hoskins Library, opened in 2003 with the mission to develop programs and promote research to further the public’s knowledge of our system of governance, and to highlight the critical importance of public service, a hallmark of Sen. Baker’s career. Today, Baker helps raise money and create partnerships for the center. He also provides ideas and assists in programming.

The new facility includes a museum that tells the story of how government works using Sen. Baker’s life as a backdrop. The museum also explores modern Tennessee politics and engages students and adults in interactive exhibits.

The building also houses the Modern Political Archives, which hold more than 100 collections of political papers from prominent Tennessee leaders including U.S. Sens. Howard H. Baker Jr., Fred Thompson and Estes Kefauver, former Knoxville Mayor and Polish Ambassador Victor Ashe and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Riley Anderson.

A 200-seat auditorium provides a setting for programs, and classrooms and break-out rooms provide space for instruction and conferences.

“The building will showcase and enhance the Baker Center’s work, making it an even greater asset to our university and our community. It will provide an elegant, state-of-the-art venue for our educational programming,” Baker Center Executive Director Alan Lowe said.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the new building was held in November 2005, and construction began shortly thereafter.

For more information about the Baker Center, see http://bakercenter.utk.edu/main/.

Howard Baker

Baker was born in Huntsville, Tenn., earned his law degree from UT Knoxville and served three terms as a U.S. senator. He rose to national prominence during the Watergate hearings of 1973-74 as vice chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. During the nationally televised Watergate hearings, Baker became best known for his repeated question, “What did the president know and when did he know it?” Although he angered some members of his party by contributing to the resignation of President Nixon, Baker’s skill, style and persistent search for the truth earned him the respect of millions.

Baker was a candidate for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination and served as President Ronald Reagan’s Chief of Staff in 1987-88. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed him as U.S. ambassador to Japan, a post he served in until 2005.

Baker is married to former U.S. Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum.

Sandra Day O’Connor

O’Connor was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and took her seat on Sept. 25, 1981.
She was sometimes a swing vote due to her case-by-case approach and her moderate political views. She retired from the court on Jan. 31, 2006.

Prior to her appointment to the Supreme Court, she was a politician and jurist in Arizona.
In 2001, Ladies’ Home Journal ranked O’Connor as the second most powerful woman in America. In 2004 and 2005, Forbes magazine named her as one of the most powerful women in the world.

Additional photos of Baker Center and a photo of O’Connor available upon request

Amy Blakely, UT media relations, (865) 974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu