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Tennessee’s Legacy of Courageous Leadership and Civil Discourse

Tennessee has a rich history of courageous leaders—perhaps none more impressive than the late Senator Howard Baker.

Baker was a talented policymaker and influential leader known for his knack for getting things done, often working across the aisle to do so. He talked often about approaching policy debates with an open curiosity and a mindset that the other person might be right.

It is an attitude we do not often see in today’s polarized political climate, one we hope to instill in our students and community through our work at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and the new Institute for American Civics.

UT System President Randy Boyd has appointed a politically diverse board to help guide the institute. The board includes our two most recent former governors: Bill Haslam, a Republican, and Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

The two also have a new podcast—produced by the Baker Center and inspired by the late senator’s commitment to civility—called You Might Be Right. The eight-episode first season includes conversations with high-profile guests on some of the most pressing issues of our time, like climate change and gun violence. It models the meaningful discourse we want to see more of in our society.

The first episode, which launched this week, is a compelling conversation on gun violence with former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and political commentator and writer David French.

On Tuesday the Baker Center hosted a live taping of a discussion on the role of the modern filibuster, featuring former Tennessee senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. It was an honor to be in the audience for a lively debate that will be available to hear on an upcoming episode.

As the state’s flagship land-grant institution, we are committed to preparing the next generation of bold leaders by teaching our students how to be critical thinkers and engaged citizens. Learning how to approach polarizing debates with humility and curiosity is how we create a more thoughtful and compassionate culture.

I hope you will join me in tuning in to the podcast. Our country needs conversations like these now more than ever.