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News, Research and Events from Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy
October 7, 2015: In this edition Fall Reception showcases growth, new research

This year’s annual Roundtable fall reception, held Tuesday evening in Doré Commons, showcased the gains the Baker Institute has made in expanding its policy research initiatives and young professionals membership groups.  
About 100 Roundtable members attended the members-only open house and engaged in lively research discussions with Baker Institute fellows and scholars.
“I try to understand what’s happening in the world, and this is a great advanced-level discussion,” longtime Roundtable member Alex Dell said. “You don’t get that very often in the civilian world. The informality of the open house and the fact that you can move around and get a little snippet of ideas from lots of different speakers, I like that idea.”
While institute experts frequently comment in the media and publish policy reports and books, the open house gave Roundtable and the Roundtable Young Professionals members direct access to fellows and scholars in a setting that encouraged conversation.
Baker Institute Director Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian noted that the Roundtable Young Professionals (RYP) group has grown to 300 members. He also commended the RYP’s increased involvement with the institute, such as hosting the successful “The Vietnam War: 50 Years Later” event last month in partnership with the Veterans in Business Administration group at the Jones Graduate School of Business.
“I think it’s great that this institute, this think tank, incorporates people from all levels, from undergraduate and graduate students and young professionals to professionals to the subject-matter experts in this country,” said RYP committee member Brian Ivany.
In his remarks on the state of the Baker Institute, Ambassador Djerejian recognized several new researchers who joined the institute this year: Edward J. Egan, director of the newly created McNair Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation; Francisco J. Monaldi, fellow in Latin American energy policy; Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, fellow for the Middle East; and A.Kadir Yildirim, research scholar in the Center for the Middle East.
The ambassador also discussed new initiatives underway. The recruitment of Tabaar and Yildirim are part of strategic efforts to expand research on U.S.-Middle Eastern foreign policy beyond the institute’s well-documented work on Arab-Israeli issues. The Mexico Center is co-hosting a conference next spring on the effect of Mexico’s energy reforms on laws governing the environment, land use, government transparency and more.
In addition, the Baker Institute and Rice University’s School of Social Sciences launched a new master’s program in global affairs, attracting 23 graduate students for the inaugural class this fall. The ambassador also noted the Center for Energy Studies has started a one-year master’s degree program in energy economics in partnership with Rice’s Department of Economics.
Ambassador Djerejian thanked the Roundtable members for their continued support of the institute, adding that contributions are especially critical now as fellows and scholars produce new policy research ahead of a transition to a new presidential administration.
“In light of the 2016 presidential elections, we, as one of the globally-recognized best think tanks in the nation and in the world, can have an impact with policy issue briefs and papers with the key timeline between November 2016 to January 2017 to inform and influence the staff and appointees of whatever administration comes into power in Washington, D.C.,” the ambassador said.

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Roundtable Dialogue: Iran nuclear deal

From left, fellows Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar and Joe Barnes confer with 
Roundtable member Alan Livingston.

With the official adoption of the Iran nuclear arms deal quickly approaching, Roundtable members gathered for an exclusive event with experts from the Center for the Middle East for insight on the complex agreement.
Joe Barnes, the Bonner Means Baker Fellow, largely focused on the U.S. perspective of the deal while Mohammad Ayatollahi Tabaar, fellow for the Middle East, discussed how it impacts Iran’s internal politics and future U.S.-Iranian relations.
Both concluded that while the agreement is not perfect, Iran and the United States secured some key provisions. “Looking forward, I don’t know if the deal is going to hold or not. I would say that odds are that it will because there’s lots of incentives for Iran to be in general compliance,” Barnes said. “On the other hand, the deal does not usher in normalization of U.S.-Iran relations.”
Tabaar said that, contrary to reports by U.S. media, Iran does not view itself as the overwhelming “winner” of the agreement. In particular, the country’s conservative faction argues that Iran conceded too much and received little in return — the country is giving up 98 percent of its uranium production while just 13 percent of the sanctions against Iran are being lifted, Tabaar said.
Iranian conservatives are also concerned the deal could lead to a regime change as the more moderate sector presses for Iran to improve relations with the United States, a development the Iranian Supreme Leader — the head of state and highest ranking political and religious authority in the country —  strongly opposes, Tabaar added.
“I think Iran’s Supreme Leader has a different game here,” Tabaar said. “He is trying to engineer a return of anti-American sentiments in Iran. And the way he will attempt to do this is to show how this deal is not what the Iranian people and the moderates think it will be. All he needs to do is translate the debates on Congress and show them live to the Iranian population, and show that the sanctions are not going to be removed the way they’d hoped. If he gets an anti-American nation the way Iran was, let’s say, in the 1970s and 1980s, the regime will be a lot more powerful. This is a tough task, though, given low anti-American sentiments among Iranians now.”

Roundtable member Bruce Appelbaum said he closely follows news about the Middle East and Iran, an interest largely fueled by his previous work as an executive with Texaco. He appreciated the thoughtful perspectives from Tabaar and Barnes as an alternative to news reports.
“I like to get expert viewpoints,” said Appelbaum, a member since 2009. “I could get lots of opinions from the talking heads, who are just filling up their 24/7 news cycle. But I’d rather hear from some people who come in with some actual data and have opinions that are formed by their actual contact and experience in the areas that they talk about.”
Alan Livingston, a Roundtable member since 2008, said he participates in most Baker Institute programs, but he prefers the more intimate setting of the Roundtable Dialogues, which are designed to promote one-on-one conversations with Baker Institute experts.
“I really like this format. It’s a discussion format, and there are usually a lot of good people here that have something to add, and that’s important,” Livingston said.
Roundtable Dialogues are one of many benefits that members enjoy, along with free admission to ticketed events, free event parking and other opportunities not available to the public. For more information about joining the Roundtable, contact Starr Dickerson at 713.348.8087 or
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Q&A: Roundtable Young Professionals

As part of an ongoing series of Q&As with Roundtable Young Professionals, Jill Thompson Shull — Executive Health Systems Manager at Johnson & Johnson — talks about why she joined a young professionals group at the Baker Institute.

What drew you to the Baker Institute and the Roundtable Young Professionals?

I have a very strong interest in health care policy, and I majored in political science while attending Rice University. I understand how important the Baker Institute’s work is not only in Houston, but on a global scale as well. The Roundtable Young Professionals (RYP) didn’t exist when I was at Rice, so I’m glad to be able to be a part of it now.

How does your RYP membership benefit you in regard to your job/career?  

This was a big boost for me. I work in an undefined, ambiguous environment that requires the ability to do things “outside the box.” I have learned so much more about hospital systems from the programming at the institute, and my membership has allowed me the opportunity to network with other professionals in similar roles who I wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to meet.

What has been your favorite program/event at the Baker Institute?

Club Berlin, a nightclub-themed RYP event filled with music, dancing and German-inspired food prepared by three of the city’s top chefs that celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 20th anniversary of the Baker Institute.  But the RYP member’s only event with Secretary James A. Baker, III, was pretty interesting as well. It was a great opportunity to get to meet him, and hear his thoughts on current political topics.

What do you feel is the number one policy issue of our time in the United States?

Foreign relations with the Middle East and managing war on terror.  It’s such a complex issue, and so few really understand the situation and can see the whole picture.

What makes Houston such a great place for young professionals?

With the exception of the weather and traffic, Houston is one of the greatest cities in the nation. We didn’t suffer as other cities did during the 2008 recession. As a Houstonian, I also have access to world-class museums and restaurants, as well as the wealth of diversity the growing population offers.

For more information on the Roundtable Young Professionals please visit

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Upcoming Events
  • Water and Energy: Challenges and Opportunities in the Nexus. Leading experts will explore the changing legal landscape surrounding water and energy, including industry implications of the new rule on "Waters of the United States." They will also discuss how other nations are thinking about problems at the water-energy nexus, as well as advances and challenges in recycling and reusing produced water from upstream oil and gas operations. 8:00 am October 14
  • More than Land: Economic Development, Environmental Protection and Indigenous Rights. Indigenous communities share a spiritual, cultural and economic relationship with their land. This event, which will be held at the Rothko Chapel, addresses how governments and consumers can better balance environmental threats to the survival of indigenous peoples. 7:00 pm October 15
  • U.S.-Iran Relations After the Nuclear Deal. Three Baker Institute experts will address questions related to the U.S-Iran nuclear agreement at this Baker Institute Student Forum event. October 19 6:30 pm
  • Confronting Climate Change: Policies and Opportunities. As the world prepares for the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, two expert panels will share various views on policy options for confronting climate change. 8:00 am October 22
  • National Health Care Reform: The Anniversary Edition. Five of the nation's leading health economists will discuss the impact of the Affordable Care Act and the challenges facing the Medicare and Medicaid programs. 8:00 am October 23
  • Roundtable Tailgate and Football Game. To celebrate the start of fall, the Baker Institute, the Jones Graduate School of Business and the Rice University Master of Global Affairs program invite you to Rice Families weekend for our first-ever tailgate and football game. 9:00 am October 24
  • Telemedicine in Schools: Improving Access to Health Care. This event will highlight the challenges in advancing policies that support telemedicine programs in Texas, and discuss innovative telemedicine programs around the state. The featured speaker, Texas state Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, authored a new law that allows Medicaid reimbursement for physicians who provide telemedicine support services in schools. Noon October 30
  • Whither Political Islam? Muslim Brotherhood and the AKP, Post-Arab Spring. Since 2010, much has changed for Islamists in the Middle East. This event will address the factors driving the changes and examine how the Arab Spring has shaped the dynamics of Islamist politics in the region. 6:00 pm November 4
  • The Arctic: A New Energy Frontier. The Arctic is widely regarded as the last frontier for global oil and gas resource development. This conference addresses the risks, opportunities and geopolitical and environmental stakes of this energy frontier. 8:30 am November 12
  • Creating a Campus Culture Where Every STEM Student Graduates. Collaborative partnerships to improve student success in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) should operate under the expectation that every student will graduate. At this lecture, Senior Vice Provost David Laude will discuss efforts and tools to create such an environment at The University of Texas at Austin. 5:30 pm November 18
  • Egyptian Liberals at a Crossroad. This lecture will offer an overview of the state of liberalism in Egypt and what it portends for the country’s future. Amr Hamzawy, a visiting scholar at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and a former member Egypt’s parliament, is the guest speaker. 6:30 pm December 3
  • Women in STEM in the Middle East and North Africa. This event seeks to identify and address the structural and cultural barriers preventing the entry and advancement of the region's women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It also aims to promote a dialogue between stakeholders from academia, policymaking and industry to determine successful approaches to increasing the representation of women in STEM disciplines. 8:30 am December 7

For a complete list, visit our event page.

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Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan, independent think tank in Houston, Texas. The institute's fellows and scholars conduct research and collaborate with experts from academia, government, the media, business and private organizations on domestic and foreign policy issues with the goal of bridging the gap between the theory and practice of public policy.
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