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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 Oct. 31 with the help of retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

Sandra Day O’Connor
Dedication ceremonies for invited guests will take place at the building in the morning. A free public lecture by O’Connor is tentatively scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in Alumni Memorial Building’s Cox Auditorium. The Baker Center building will be open to the public from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. following the lecture, and will host a public open house from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 1.

The first woman to serve on the Supreme Court, 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 somewhat moderate political views. She retired from the court on Jan. 31, 2006.

O’Connor, 78, was born in El Paso, Texas. She received her bachelor’s degree and law degree from Stanford University.

She served as deputy county attorney of San Mateo County, Calif., and worked as a civilian attorney in Frankfurt, Germany. She practiced law in Maryvale, Ariz., and served as assistant attorney general of Arizona. She was appointed to the Arizona state Senate in 1969 and was subsequently re-elected to two two-year terms. In 1975 she was elected judge of the Maricopa County Superior Court and served until 1979, when she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals.

O’Connor and her husband, John Jay O’Connor III, have three sons.

The Baker Center, which had been housed in Hoskins Library, opened in 2003 with the goal of becoming one of the nation’s leading institutions integrating archives, research and outreach in the service of public policy and public affairs.

A ceremonial groundbreaking for the center’s new $17 million, 53,000-square-foot facility at 1640 Cumberland Ave. was held in November 2005, and construction began shortly thereafter.

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 civic exhibits. The building 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. The center has a 200-seat auditorium for programs, as well as classrooms with break-out rooms 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 public programming. And, in the museum, students will be able to see for themselves how government works and the important part citizens must play in order to maintain and help democracy thrive,” Baker Center Executive Director Alan Lowe said.

A $100,000 state Community Enhancement Grant helped with last-minute enhancements to the new building’s museum and civic education programs.

“The grant allowed us to purchase laptop computers for the classrooms, contract with teachers to produce lesson plans and purchase an interactive display that will allow visitors to give part of a famous speech,” Lowe said.

This and other high-tech displays will introduce visitors to public service and civic engagement opportunities.

“Interactive and audiovisual elements tend to stick in a visitor’s mind and will definitely make an impression on young people. And since the youth of our community are our future, it is critical they learn how our government works and the importance of being civically engaged,” Lowe said.

The museum also includes some special quiz displays geared toward youth.

In addition, the Baker Center is working with K-12 teachers to create lesson plans and unique activities that complement the museum exhibit and meet Tennessee education standards. The materials and lesson plans will focus on Tennessee political history, with an emphasis on the 20th and 21st centuries; modern Tennessee political leaders; the United States Congress; the White House; the judiciary; foreign relations and diplomacy; the role of the press; founding principles of our republic; a selection of public policy issues, such as energy policy; and the importance of public service and civic engagement.

The Baker Center is a nonpartisan center that develops educational programs and promotes civic engagement and research to further the public’s understanding and knowledge of our system of governance, critical public policy issues and the importance of public service. The center embodies a genuine respect for differing points of view, and it serves as a forum for discussion, debate, education and research.

For more information about the Baker Center, see


Amy Blakely, (865) 974-5034,