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Baker Institute 30th anniversary gala to host Kissinger, Clinton, Baker

Lily Remington / Thresher

By Maria Morkas     9/27/23 12:27am

The Baker Institute will hold its 30th anniversary gala Oct. 26, welcoming three former secretaries of state: Henry Kissinger, Hillary Clinton and James Baker.

Director of the Baker Institute David Satterfield said this celebration serves as an opportunity to accentuate the work of the Baker Institute and Rice University.

“We tried to feature speakers that we believe will be of broad interest, not just to the foreign policy or domestic policy community, but to Houston and the Rice University community in general,” Satterfield said. 

Satterfield said the armchair discussion will be moderated by Norah O’Donnell, the managing editor and anchor for CBS Evening News. She will broach issues like Russia’s war in Ukraine and the relationship between China and the United States.

“What do they think, based on their experience, needs to be done now?” Satterfield said. “What are their recommendations? What are their thoughts? This is not meant to be a look backward. It’s a look at the situation facing Americans, Houstonians, Texans, the global community today and where things go in the future.”

Rice University Students for Justice in Palestine, along with other Rice and Houston organizations, started an online petition calling upon Rice to cancel the gala and issue a letter, along with the Baker Institute, addressing Kissinger’s alleged international war crimes. As of Sept. 26, this petition has garnered 232 signatures. This isn’t the first time SJP has protested a Baker Institute event — in April 2023, a similar petition called for the cancellation of Israel@75, a conference marking the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

SJP member Zachary Katz said the celebration, in his opinion, is a representation of Rice’s position within a system of imperialism that oppresses other countries.

“All three of the [speakers] have been involved with very egregious war crimes that the U.S. has done,” Katz, a Brown College junior, said. “For example, Hillary Clinton was involved in war crimes in Libya. Kissinger was one of the main people who helped the U.S. install political coups of socialist governments across the world.”

In response to concerns over the invited guests, Satterfield said that people are free to communicate their opinions to the Institute and to the public.

“Everyone has a right to express their views,” Satterfield said. “It needs to be done in a civil matter, and this university can take pride in its openness to discourse, its openness to the expression of different points of view. There is no cancel culture at Rice.”

Nithya Shenoy, a co-president of the Baker Institute Student Forum, said she is looking forward to attending the event.

“A lot of people were extremely excited when they heard that Clinton would be here. She’s had a great career and is just incredibly impressive given that she served as secretary of state and ran for presidency back in 2016. She’s someone who is a role model to a lot of people in politics … and we can’t wait to get the opportunity to meet her,” Shenoy, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “I think that [the Baker Institute has] done a good job of choosing speakers who represent a diversity of opinions and perspectives, which is what the Baker Institute stands for.”

Satterfield said that the speakers’ combined five decades of policy experience was the primary reason behind hosting them at the Institute’s anniversary celebration.

“All three have remained active in the foreign policy domestic policy world, particularly Dr. Kissinger, who has just returned from trips to China [and] Japan,” Satterfield said. “They offer insights of high value, and that’s what we do here.”

Shenoy said she believes the ideal outcome of the gala would be for students to get the chance to meet different people and attendees at the event. She thinks it’s a great opportunity to exchange viewpoints with different people — many of whom aren’t Rice undergraduate students — and to learn from everyone present.

“[It would be interesting] to get [the speakers’] opinions on how the U.S. is going to do moving ahead,” Shenoy said. “I think the country’s going through some tough times economically, and I know that there are many different opinions on what policy should be enacted or what action should be taken. It would be great to hear from all the guests who have had extensive political careers on what they would do if they were in current power.”

Katz said he believes Rice’s goal for the gala is to whitewash history and to normalize oppressive and imperialistic foreign policies.

“The Baker Institute should not celebrate its 30th anniversary. Although it does do research, a lot of [it] is used to justify the U.S.’s involvement in imperialist affairs,” Katz said. “For example, the research done about the Ukraine-Russia war has been used to justify the U.S.’s involvement and extension of that war.”

Satterfield, however, believes the gala has a different goal in mind. 

“We want to stimulate informed debate,” Satterfield said. “We want to draw the attention of this community here, Rice, Houston, Texas, as well as the broader U.S. policymaking community, to not only our experts here at the Institute, but those we bring to the Institute. What do they offer? What are their thoughts? What are the best responses in a changing and challenging work?”

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