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.

James 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 has declared. “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 under-secretary for management at the U.S. Department of State. In May 1994, distinguished diplomat Edward P. Djerejian was named the institute’s founding 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.

Ambassador Djerejian has provided strong leadership in the institute's research agenda and schedule of programs since assuming its helm, and has played a prominent role in the institute's fundraising campaigns. Visit the Baker Institute timeline for highlights of the past two decades, which include:

  • Nov. 13, 1995: Gen. Colin L. Powell, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is honored at institute’s inaugural conference with an award for distinguished public service.
  • 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.
  • April 20, 1997: Renowned Mexican novelist Carlos Fuentes delivers the keynote address at the first annual Americas Project Colloquium.
  • Oct. 15, 1997: Dedication ceremonies for James A. Baker III Hall are held. Participants included former Secretary of State James A. Baker, III; E. William Barnett, chairman of Rice University Board of Trustees; former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger; Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson; and Houston mayor Bob Lanier.
  • 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.
  • Sept. 19, 1998: Norman Schwarzkopf visits the institute and reflects on Desert Storm and the Gulf War.
  • Feb. 25, 1999: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, former president of France, addresses students at the Baker Institute.
  • Oct. 26, 1999: Nelson Mandela addresses an audience of 5,000 students, faculty and community members.
  • Oct. 5, 2001: Eight former secretaries of the treasury discuss the issues and challenges that faced the U.S. Dept. of the Treasury after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
  • Nov. 13, 2001: Alan Greenspan, the 13th chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, speaks on the future of the energy industry in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
  • Nov. 14, 2001: Vladimir Putin shares his vision for Russia's future.
  • May 9, 2002: King Abdullah II of Jordan speaks at the Baker Institute.
  • Oct. 17, 2003: The Baker Institute celebrates its 10th anniversary.
  • April 7, 2004: Nobel laureate Richard Smalley issues a call to restore scientific integrity in policymaking.
  • Nov. 15, 2004: Tom Brokaw offers his views on political news after 42 years in broadcast journalism.
  • 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.
  • June 30, 2005: Commission on Federal Election Reform hearing is held at Baker Institute. Former President Jimmy Carter and James A. Baker, III, serve as co-chairs.
  • Nov. 7, 2005: Former NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, emphasizes the importance of encouraging young girls to feel "a sense of belonging in science" during a lecture at the Baker Institute.
  • 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: 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: 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.
  • June 2010: Rice University undergraduates gain hands-on experience in public policy research and analysis. Initiated in 2003, the Jesse Jones Leadership Center Summer in D.C. Policy Research Internship Program is one of the premier internship opportunities at the Baker Institute. Designed to help undergraduates develop careers in public policy, it is open to Rice undergraduates of all majors and policy research interests.
  • Oct. 21, 2011: Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen explores economic recession, development and human capability.
  • March 2013: A Baker Institute special report informs Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to initiate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
  • Oct. 2013: The Baker Institute launches three new research centers. The institute is building on the achievements of the past 20 years by creating the Center for the Middle East, the Mexico Center and the Center for Energy Studies to address key issue areas. The institute's work in other research areas is expanding as well.
  • Nov. 2013: The Baker Institute marks its 20th anniversary with a celebration gala and, the following evening, Club Berlin, a party for young professionals.