UVA Announces Brand New Institute of Democracy

On June 4, the Board of Visitors at the University of Virginia announced the founding of the Karsh Institution of Democracy. This $100 million endeavor is largely made possible because of the gifts of Bruce and Martha Karsh, who contributed 50 million dollars to the University’s latest project. In Martha Karsh’s words, the institution aims to “amplify Thomas Jefferson’s charge to UVA to educate what he called ‘citizen leaders’.”

The idea for the University’s latest collaborative institution can be traced back to the 2019 Presidential Ideas Festival and is something that, as he noted, President Jim Ryan has been working on for some time. The Institution of Democracy will act as a collaborative conglomerate of the various public policy, politics, and leadership departments at the University, with particular emphasis on the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. Through this newfound collaboration, the institution aims to do the “work of the 21st century… to hold institutions accountable,”. According to Melody Barnes, who has been named as the Executive Director for this new venture.

Barnes has spent years in the political arena, working as the Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama, the executive vice president of the Center for American Progress, and the Chief counsel to Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

The University’s latest research endeavor will also boast a new research center in Emmett Ivy Corridor. The building, currently being constructed, will host spaces for classrooms, meetings, and the various research projects of the Institution. While the project is backed by an initial $100 million, comprising the $50 million gift from the Karshes and the University’s matched contribution, an additional $50 million endowment is expected by the time construction on the Institution is complete. While the physical space of the project is not yet complete, Ryan says that their work and research will begin immediately and that an expected one million dollars will be given to the researchers annually during construction.

Executive Director Barnes, commented ”Here at UVA… we run towards the problems. And that’s what we’re going to do… We [will] specialize in the wholly impossible.”

With this latest addition to the University, Jim Ryan and the broader UVA community aim to purposefully lead the charge into the world of tomorrow and take a substantial role in shaping the democracy of the future.


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