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The Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs

This spring, the Institute of American Civics, housed in the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is launching its flagship lecture series.

The Civic Leadership Lecture Series will bring experts from across the country to UT to examine issues and ideas foundational to American society. The series is intended to promote better citizenship through thoughtful and respectful debate and discussion.

“This series is a model for how campuses can contribute to civil discourse,” said Josh Dunn, executive director of the institute. “We want our students to learn how to engage more effectively and respectfully with each other. By demonstrating constructive dialogue, we also see this as a service to our state and communities across the U.S.”

The series will feature three events covering freedom of speech, the American dream, and the political system.

“Senator Howard Baker once told his colleagues, ‘Be civil and encourage others to do likewise,’” said Chancellor Donde Plowman. “Conversations like these are a way for us to model the civility and respectful debate that our country needs now more than ever.”

All lectures are open to the campus and community. Each event will be held in the Baker School’s Toyota Auditorium.

“The Truth-seeking Mission of the University”
Thursday, Feb. 29, 5:30 p.m.
Robert George of Princeton University will discuss the importance of colleges and universities being sites of free and open discussion and the measures universities can take to strengthen and improve their position as models for civil and robust discourse. This lecture is supported by the Office of the Provost.

“Is the American Dream Dying?”
Thursday, March 21, 5:30 p.m.

Michael Strain of the American Enterprise Institute and David Leonhardt of the New York Times will debate opposing positions on the contemporary viability of the American dream. In his book “The American Dream Is Not Dead (But Populism May Kill It),” Strain contends that America remains a land of economic opportunity and extraordinary quality of life but is threatened by false prophets of populism on both the left and right. In “Ours Was the Shining Future: The Story of the American Dream,” Leonhardt argues that the right’s support for corporate power and the left’s focus on identity politics and social issues over the working class have led to declining upward mobility. Kaylee McGhee, a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum, will moderate the debate.





“The Myth of Left and Right: How the Political Spectrum Misleads and Harms America,”
Thursday, April 25, 5:30 p.m.

Hyrum Lewis of Brigham Young University-Idaho and Verlan Lewis of Utah Valley University will discuss the idea that, contrary to popular and scholarly belief, there are no durable political philosophies behind our political categories of liberal and conservative and left and right. Instead, these categories have evolved in often strange and incoherent ways, and what binds liberals and conservatives is tribal loyalty rather than consistent principles. Those categories in turn generate confusion and hostility and undermine our ability to engage in reasoned debate.

Hyrum Lewis

Verlan Lewis

About the Institute of American Civics

Created by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2022 with overwhelming bipartisan support, the Institute of American Civics provides a comprehensive civic education for university undergraduates and the state that includes America’s founding principles, the economic and political institutions that maintain American democracy, and the basics of civic engagement. The institute is housed within the Baker School of Public Policy and Public Affairs and is advised by a 13-member board of fellows.


Tyra Haag (865-974-5460,

Patricia Contic (865-974-3869,