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Government professor receives NMSU's highest faculty award

Nancy Baker, an associate professor of government at New Mexico State University, has been selected to receive the university's highest faculty award, the Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching.

Nancy Baker, an associate professor of government at New Mexico State University, has been selected to receive the university's higest faculty award, the Westhafer Award for Excellence in Teaching. (NMSU Photo by Darren Phillips)

Baker will be presented the award at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at a ceremony in the Conroy Honors Center Commons Area. A reception will precede the ceremony at 4 p.m.
Baker will present "In Praise of Provocation: Professors, Democracy and the Public University."

Baker is described by her colleagues as "an undisputed leader" in teaching excellence.

"She is a dedicated professional and accomplished teacher, and I can think of no one more deserving of receiving the Westhafer Award for teaching excellence," said Government Department Head William Taggart, who nominated Baker for the award. "In a department that promotes and values strong teaching performance, Dr. Baker is the acknowledged 'heavy-weight.'"

Baker has won two departmental, five university and two national teaching awards. She served as director of the law and society supplemental major for five years and as the acting director of the Honors College for one year.
Baker said that she has tried to encourage her students to think in new ways, to be critical and to question the world around them.

"I am humbled by the power of teaching," Baker said. "I want students to be active and make their communities better places. My goal is to energize them and give them the tools they need to effect change."
Baker has many students who credit her with changing their lives.

"I wish every student in every university was lucky enough to have such a dedicated and caring professor," one former student wrote. "Dr. Baker truly changes the lives of her students for the better. I know that I would not have the skills I have or be where I am without the training, discipline and compassion I learned from Dr. Nancy Baker."

Another former student wrote, "Knowledge comes with a responsibility to use it and attempt to focus on the many difficult issues in life and the world ... Dr. Baker gives students not simply the knowledge, but the feeling of empowerment to use that knowledge."

Baker's research interests include law and politics in the executive branch, specifically the U.S. attorney general, and women and the law. She is the author of "Conflicting Loyalties: Law and Politics in the Attorney General's Office, 1789-1990" and numerous book chapters, encyclopedia entries and articles. She has served as the invited scholar on the Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations for the Presidential Oral History Project of the Miller Center of the University of Virginia, which allowed her to interview former U.S. Attorneys General Edwin M. Meese, Richard Thornburgh, William P. Barr and Janet Reno.

Baker is currently writing a book on former Attorney General John Ashcroft titled "General Ashcroft: Attorney at War," which will be available in 2006 from the University Press of Kansas.

Baker has taught more than 16 different courses since she joined the NMSU government faculty in 1989. Some of her courses include Constitutional Law, Civil Liberties, Law and Sex, the Presidency, International Law, Comparative Legal Systems, American Politics, and Women and Politics.

Baker has a bachelor's degree in journalism from San Jose State University and a doctorate in political science from Tulane University.

The Westhafer Award is named for Robert L. Westhafer, an NMSU professor of mathematics who died in 1957. The award, which includes a $3,000 cash prize, has been presented each year since 1958. It is presented in alternate years for excellence in teaching and excellence in research and creative activity.