When the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy was founded in 2003, its namesake wanted to initiate a prestigious lecture series.
Today at 2 p.m. in the Cox Auditorium, Senator Baker's dream will be realized when Senator George Mitchell takes the stage and delivers the inaugural Baker Distinguished Lecture.
"The whole Baker Distinguished Lecture Series is something that Senator Baker has wanted to do since we began in 2003," said Nissa Dahlin-Brown, associate director of the Baker Center. "Senator Mitchell's name came up as somebody who epitomized the whole purpose of the lecture series, which is to recognize people who have made a big impact, and he certainly has."
Appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1980, Mitchell completed the unexpired term of Senator Edmund Muskie. He was elected to a full term in 1982 in a come-from-behind victory, starting off a 15-year career in the Senate, where he eventually became Senate Majority Leader for six years.
A big part of his success was his reputation for bipartisan respect. A bipartisan group of senior congressional aides voted him "the most respected member" of the Senate, six years in a row. Daniel Aycock, senior in accounting, thinks that his ability to bridge party differences is especially relevant in today's political climate.
"He was involved in government in a time when statesmanship was really emphasized, in a time when people like Howard Baker were in the Senate," Aycock said. "I think it's important for students to know that that kind of bipartisanship is possible and actually happened at one point in our history. And in the midst of such a partisan political environment that we face all the time today, I think it's really important to remember that that is possible and that it is something we should strive for again."
Politics launched Mitchell into other public service realms, including the infamous Mitchell Report for Major League Baseball that exposed the depth of performance enhancing drugs at the professional level. Most recently, Mitchell was assigned the title of "Athletics Integrity Monitor" at Penn State.
Dahlin-Brown admitted that the subject of the lecture is unknown, showing a little excitement at the pending surprise.
"I don't know if it'll be ... about Senator Baker ... or his work in the Middle East, I have no idea," she said. "But it should be interesting, he's had an interesting career. There's so many things he could touch on. He's still extremely busy and extremely active."
"I think that's something that a lot of UT students would be interested in, especially political science majors and people interested in government and public policy," said Aycock, a former candidate for Student Body President in his own right. "I know we have an office of national scholarships and fellowships here on campus with a brand new staff person whose job is to ... help connect students with those kinds of opportunities."
That staff person is Nichole Fazio-Veigel, the new assistant director of the Office of National Scholarships and Fellowships. Fazio-Veigel stressed that the scholarship has broad applications.
"Students generally are interested in peace and conflict resolution, but they can be studying any number of variants. I was just looking at the 2013 profiles and there's a student who's pursuing photography," she said.
Fazio-Veigel pointed out the rarity of having the namesake of such a prestigious scholarship visit campus.
"It is unbelievably rare to ever have a representative from one of these top-tier (Rhodes, Marshall, Gates, Cambridge, Mitchell) scholarships actually be available to students," she said. "The fact that they can go and listen to the person that this thing was named after is ... a once in a college career type of experience."
After his lecture, Mitchell will be available in the Baker Center to speak with students. Dahlin-Brown invited all students to come and ask questions.
After leaving the Senate, Mitchell served as the lead negotiator in the Good Friday Agreement that resolved conflict between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. His work garnered him a Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. government. His involvement in Ireland led to his biggest contribution to college students — the Mitchell Scholarship. Considered the Ireland equivalent of the Rhodes or Marshall scholarships, the Mitchell is awarded to only 12 students each year and offers one year of postgraduate study in any discipline at any school in Ireland.