By Christina Kelso
JU Communications Sophomore
Coming together in a star-spangled sendoff, familiar faces converged April 2 to celebrate the retirement of JU Political Science Prof. Stephen Baker and honor his 28 years’ service to the University.
In recognition of Baker’s 2013 retirement, the JU Political Science Society decided to surprise their advisor. Using the time set aside for the annual National Political Science Honor Society inductions, the members conspired to gather students and colleagues from Baker’s past and present into the Kinne University Center to join in the celebration.
“I very much appreciate the people coming to spend this time together,” said Baker. “The Pi Sigma Alpha ceremony is always a big part of the year for the political science club, and that’s why I’m really delighted they selected to use this time also recognizing my retirement. I’m very much touched by that.”
Armed with inside jokes and memories, JU senior English and political science major Illiana Tidd, JU Political Science 2010 alumni Michael Kerekes and JU Dean of Arts and Sciences Douglas Hazzard each took the stage to speak about Baker.
“Dr. Baker is one of those professors who inspires students,” said Kerekes. “He makes us want to learn.”
Baker began his career at JU in 1985 and has since broadened the minds of students through his thought-provoking discussions of political science and the human condition, attendees said.
“I’m always encouraging people to keep an open mind, and yet what I keep discovering is I’m learning so much more by trying to teach things,” said Baker. “There is that old saying that you can’t really learn something until you try to teach it. I heard that before but now I understand it.”
Angel Buckmire, JU sophomore and political science major, said Baker will be hard to replace.
“His presence can never be duplicated,” Buckmire said. “It was a very warm atmosphere. He is a one-of-a-kind man.”
Baker’s presence is far reaching. Beyond the echo of classroom walls and memories resounding in the hearts and minds of his students, his influence extends into the Jacksonville community.
“His community involvement is just unbelievable for any professor,” said Kerekes. “He goes head and shoulders above the rest.”
He serves as chair of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, is a member of the First Coast Tiger Bay Club, is president of the United Nations Association Jacksonville Chapter, and recently represented JU in a trip to Turkey alongside other local universities to discuss possible cooperative exchange programs. Baker is also a popular political commentator for Jacksonville media outlets.
Baker plans to return to JU in fall 2013 to teach one class — Political Institutions — for the new JU Public Policy Institute. There he will again confront the issues of unsettled worlds — whether in politics or in his office.
“I’ve still got a lot of work to do,” he said. “Many of you have seen my office, it’s a work in progress, let’s say. Much like the world of politics it’s a bit unsettled, but there is really logic to it.”
He is also looking forward to a retirement characterized by open opportunities and ample time to study and write. Areas he is particularly interested in are changes in campaign technologies, politics and the ways in which successful politicians adapt to changing environments.
“Right now it’s sort of a blank slate,” said Baker. “There are lots of things I really want to do, and I have to decide which to focus on.”