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September Message: Thoughtful Debate When Our Country Needs It Most


As Tennessee’s flagship land-grant university, UT has the opportunity to be a leader in advancing civil discourse and thoughtful debate at a time when our country needs it most.

With the launch of the Institute of American Civics, housed in the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy, UT will provide programming and education on America’s founding principles, the economic and political institutions that maintain American democracy, and the basics of civic engagement.

As part of our effort to model respectful conversations on tough topics, the Baker Center has launched a podcast hosted by former governors Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, and Bill Haslam, a Republican. Together they will interview guests and talk about some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

I hope you will tune in to the podcast and look for more ways to get engaged through the Baker Center and the Institute for American Civics.


At the University of Tennessee, we have always been committed to preparing the next generation of bold leaders, critical thinkers, and engaged citizens.

We do this not by teaching our students what to think but teaching them how to think.

Civil discourse and intellectual curiosity is part of what makes a Volunteer—and it is the kind of leadership our country really needs now more than ever before.

We have been called upon to take an even bigger role in strengthening civic engagement and combating the polarization we see across society.

The new Institute for American Civics is an opportunity for the University of Tennessee’s flagship campus to be a leader in this area.

It is our chance to show the world that restoring
civility doesn’t mean shying away from tough conversations, and it doesn’t mean you’ll always agree.

It means approaching these debates head on with humility, curiosity, and—as Senator Howard Baker would say—a willingness to consider that the other person just might be right.

This is how we create a more thoughtful, more compassionate, and more engaged society.

President Randy Boyd has appointed a politically diverse Board of Fellows for this institute that includes some of the most highly respected academics, writers, and leaders in the country—including former governors Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen.

The two have also launched a podcast—produced by the Baker Center—where they will talk to guests about some of the most polarizing
issues of our time and model the meaningful discourse we want and need to see more of in our society.

I hope you will all tune in and listen.

Thank you to all to all of you—our students, our faculty, and our staff—for helping foster a campus where we can have tough conversations that challenge us but in a respectful manner.