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 and dedicated by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor (ret.). 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. Concurrently to this change in leadership, various task forces reviewed the mission of the Center and in 2012 the museum was closed and converted into offices for the Honors and Scholars Program. Additionally, the Modern Political Archives was taken over by UT Libraries Special Collections, though it still physically remains in the building. As a result, staff was reduced and segments of the museum were moved into locations throughout the building, where they can be viewed today. Some exhibits were also located in the Senator’s hometown of Huntsville, TN, at local public schools.
In 2012, Dr. Matthew Murray, 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.
In 2021, Dr. Murray retired and stepped down as executive director. Dr. Marianne Wanamaker, a University of Tennessee associate 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.
A Powerful Legacy
Senator Baker continued to be engaged with the Baker Center until his death on June 26, 2014. However, his leadership and support provided such a strong foundation that the Center is well situated to continue his legacy as a place for civil, bipartisan discussion of the issues affecting us all.