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October 12, 2011: News, Research & Events from the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy
Baker Institute Update: Students lunch with The Honorable James A. Baker, III
Students lunch with James A. Baker, III

Whether they work as interns, join the Student Forum or take a class from a fellow, students are an integral part of the Baker Institute. Two student-centered events recently highlighted the institute's commitment to educate and nurture policy-minded undergraduates, and inform them about important issues of the day.

On Oct. 4, the Baker Institute Student Forum (BISF) welcomed James A. Baker, III, the institute's honorary chair, to an informal lunch and question-and-answer session. Over sandwiches and sodas, the former secretary of state fielded questions from 20 Rice University students about foreign policy, the debt crisis in Europe and energy independence.

"All of the students were well-informed and willing to pose tough questions — just the sort of group I like," said Baker of the gathering, which included members of BISF, the Rice University Young Democrats and the Rice Conservative Forum. "I hope the students had as much fun as I did."

The students, reflecting on the meeting after the lunch, said they appreciated Baker's candor and directness. "Mr. Baker is a very strong person who takes an issue and cuts to the chase," said Audra Herrera '12, a political science and English major. "He talked about everything from his early life to the value of Teach for America and the situation in the Middle East. He was able to bring issues to life because of his own experiences, and he didn't sidestep any of our questions."

BISF president Myles Bugbee '12, also a political science major, agreed. "You can read about events in the news, but his take on them is based on personal knowledge and his deep knowledge of policy. To speak one-on-one with someone who was so successful in public policy was a real learning experience."

A second event recently hosted by the BISF turned into the largest student program in Baker Institute history. On Sept. 29, more than 275 people gathered at Baker Hall to hear a lecture by the Rev. Jim Wallis, CEO of Sojourners, a progressive Christian organization dedicated to social justice. The presentation and question-and-answer period, moderated by William Martin, Harry and Hazel Chavanne Senior Fellow in Religion and Public Policy, explored how the world can change for the better when people work across religious and political lines.

"Rev. Wallis' words provided an opportunity for this campus to have a more honest and more tolerant discussion of faith and politics than ever before," said Danny Cohen '14, a political science and economics major who helped lead the effort to bring Wallis to campus.

Cohen said that he thought Wallis "could do an incredible job of ... showing that religion and politics, especially more progressive politics, are actually compatible, and that no one has a monopoly on truth."

The event, which touched on topics such as poverty reduction, civil rights and the role of faith in public policy, ended with a standing ovation for Wallis and Martin. A number of students "decided to become more politically engaged and others have re-evaluated how they view religious individuals," Cohen said.

Djerejian named to Carnegie board

Baker Institute founding director Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian has been named to the board of trustees of Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Djerejian "is one of the United States' most distinguished diplomats, having served his country from the Kennedy administration to the Clinton administration," said The Honorable Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey and chairman of Carnegie's board of trustees. "In his current role as director of the prestigious Baker Institute, he brings his vast experience and considerable wisdom to helping guide public policy."

Carnegie Corporation president Vartan Gregorian added that Djerejian's "dedication to American ideals, his efforts to achieve peace in challenging settings, and his commitment to public service resonate deeply with Andrew Carnegie's vision of doing real and permanent good in this world."

Andrew Carnegie founded the Carnegie Corporation of New York in November 1911 to "promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding."

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The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy is a nonpartisan public policy think tank located on the campus of Rice University in Houston, Texas. The institute's distinguished fellows and scholars 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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