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The History of the Baker Institute

In 1993, James A. Baker, III, gave a speech at Rice University that laid out the mission of the Baker Institute. Above, Baker and E. William Barnett, now chair of the Baker Institute Board of Advisers, cut the ribbon at the Oct. 15, 1997, Baker Hall building dedication ceremony.

The 1994 groundbreaking ceremony for Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy marked an important moment in its history and a clear signal of the direction it would take. Four former U.S. presidents — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush — participated in the ceremony, setting a bipartisan tone that James A. Baker, III, and university leaders had mandated from the very beginning.

Secretary Baker has himself defined the purpose of the institute that bears his name. “My vision for the institute is simple: to build a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action,” he said. “Scholars should learn firsthand from statesmen of the practical imperatives that impact policy, often times making the ‘perfect’ the enemy of the ‘good.’ Statesmen and policymakers should hear rigorous, logical — and always practical — scholarly analyses of how to improve the work they do. And students, the next generation of scholars and statesmen, should be enriched through participation in this dialogue and go on to be better scholars and statesmen as a result.”

The founding of the Baker Institute represents the culmination of a long-standing relationship between the Baker family and Rice University. James Baker’s grandfather and namesake was the first chair of the Rice Board of Trustees, a post he held from 1891 to 1941. “Captain” Baker, as he was affectionately called, was also instrumental in saving the nascent university’s endowment after a valet murdered its benefactor, William Marsh Rice, in his sleep.

Between 1993 and 1994, the Baker Institute was managed by John Rogers, former undersecretary for management at the U.S. Department of State. In May 1994, distinguished diplomat Edward P. Djerejian was named the institute’s director. His appointments over 30 years of public service included U.S. ambassador to Israel and to the Syrian Arab Republic. Under the ambassador's leadership, the Baker Institute quickly joined the ranks of the nation's and the world’s leading nonpartisan think tanks.

Visit the Baker Institute timeline for highlights of the past two decades, which include:

• Feb. 7, 1997: The Honorable Madeleine Albright, then newly appointed secretary of state, delivers her first major foreign policy address outside of Washington, D.C., at the Baker Institute.

• Oct. 15, 1997: Mikhail Gorbachev and Henry Kissinger are among the featured guests at the institute’s Third Annual Conference.

• April 23, 1998: Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, speaks at the Baker Institute on the challenges of conflict prevention in the post-Cold War era.

• Oct. 26, 1999: Nelson Mandela addresses an audience of 5,000 students, faculty and community members.

• Oct. 17, 2003: The Baker Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary, raising $3.2 million in support of its mission as a nonpartisan, independent policy resource.

• April 7, 2004: Nobel laureate Richard Smalley issues a call to restore scientific integrity in policymaking.

• June 2004: The Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program is launched. Now one of the institute’s premier internship opportunities, the program helps Rice undergraduates develop careers in public policy by funding hands-on summer internships in the nation’s capital.

• April 28, 2005: The Baker Institute marks the 75th birthday of its honorary chair, former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, with a western-inspired celebration. Former President George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush are honored guests.

• Jan. 16, 2006: Israel’s President Shimon Peres delivers a lecture at the Baker Institute.

• Nov. 16, 2006: The Baker Institute awards the inaugural James A. Baker, III, Prize for Excellence in Leadership to former Secretary of Energy Charles W. Duncan Jr. in recognition of his distinguished accomplishments in public service and civic life.

• Feb. 8, 2007: Former President Bill Clinton addresses over 2,700 Rice University students.

• May 1, 2007: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama speaks at the Baker Institute.

• Nov. 13, 2008: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delivers the keynote address at the Baker Institute’s 15th anniversary gala.

• Oct. 31, 2009: To commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the institute hosts a historic panel discussion with six of the principal decision-makers who navigated the sometimes treacherous path to German unification.

• Nov. 10, 2009: Philanthropist and businessman Robert C. McNair receives the James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership.

• Nov. 12, 2009: Author, educator and activist Jehan Sadat, widow of the late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, delivers a message of hope and peace during an event for the Women and Human Rights in the Middle East Program.

• March 19, 2010: Robert B. Zoellick, president of the World Bank, discusses the U.S. economy at a Baker Institute event.

• March 2013: A Baker Institute special report informs Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to initiate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.

• Oct. 2013: Building on the achievements of the past 20 years, the Baker Institute launches three new research centers: the Center for Energy Studies, the Mexico Center and the Center for the Middle East. The institute’s work in other research areas expands as well.

• Nov. 2013: The Baker Institute marks its 20th anniversary with a celebration gala and, the following evening, a party for young professionals held in a fictional “Club Berlin.”

• March 18, 2014: The Baker Institute welcomes the Honorable Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leader of the House of Representatives, for a wide-ranging discussion on domestic and international affairs and succeeding as a woman in a male-dominated industry.

• June 2014: The Honorable James A. Baker, III, and Susan G. Baker establish an endowed fellowship to honor the work of founding director Edward Djerejian and his wife, Françoise. The Djerejians direct the endowment to Tony Payan, director of the Baker Institute Mexico Center, as the first Françoise and Edward Djerejian Baker Institute Fellow.

• August 2014: The Baker Institute and the School of Social Sciences launch a master’s program in global affairs at Rice University.