The University of Virginia has announced gifts totaling $12.9 million from seventeen donors to launch a new Democracy Initiative.
To be led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and the nonpartisan Miller Center of Public Affairs, the interdisciplinary teaching, research, and engagement initiative will bring together a diverse range of scholars, government leaders, and practitioners to study and advance the prospects of democracy globally. To that end, the gifts to the College Foundation and the Jefferson Scholars Foundation will enable the initiative to access up to $10 million in matching funds from the university's Strategic Investment Fund.
UVA also announced that Melody C. Barnes, former director of the Domestic Policy Council in the Obama administration, has been appointed co-director of the initiative, pending approval by the university's board of visitors. Barnes will focus on policy and public affairs engagement, while the college will begin a nationwide search for an academic co-director to help direct the initiative and guide its research agenda.
The initiative has launched its first two "democracy labs" — specific thematic projects within the initiative undertaken by research teams comprising faculty and students. The "Religion, Race, and Global Democracies" lab serves as a direct response to the white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville in August 2017 and the larger societal fault lines they laid bare. The lab's work will include producing a podcast series called "Sources of In | Tolerance" that will probe seminal works that have shaped our ideas about religion and civic participation, democracy, and resistance. The second lab will focus on strategies for combating corruption and will feature classes, conferences, and research in the field of corruption studies.
"Thanks to the dedication and generosity of our donors, and Melody's depth of experience in the field, we can take the compelling ideas driving the initiative and accelerate our ability to bring them to life," said Ian Baucom, Buckner W. Clay Dean of Arts & Sciences. "The impact of our work will reverberate in the future citizen-leaders we educate, in the innovative research that advances our understanding of the democratic project, and in the public engagement that influences its future prospects through policy."