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UVa Institute of Democracy announced at Presidential Ideas Festival

Thursday, May 23, 2019

The University of Virginia kicked off its first-ever Presidential Ideas Festival Tuesday with insights into the executive office from former diplomats and dignitaries and an announcement of a new umbrella institute at UVa to promote democracy.

“It’s clear that we can’t take the existence of democracy for granted, which is why we’re gathered here today,” said UVa President Jim Ryan during opening remarks. “We all have a role to play as citizens, elected officials, business leaders, members of the media.”

In his speech, Ryan officially announced an Institute of Democracy that will try to study and support that system of government, saying UVa has its own role to uphold in forming a “more perfect union.”

“If we do all this, I believe that UVa will be rightly known as the leading place in the country, if not the world, to study, learn and teach democracy and more importantly, democracies everywhere will be more strong for it,” said Ryan, who added that the project is still in its early stages.

In addition to academic departments, UVa hosts several policy, leadership and public affairs think tanks that sometimes conduct overlapping projects and seek fundraising from some of the same sources, including the fledgling Democracy Initiative, which was launched by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences in September.

An umbrella Institute for Democracy might allow for coordination and enact central oversight of that time and money. UVa has been looking for ways to organize programming and fundraising for its various institutes and centers, according to multiple employees familiar with discussions.

In an email statement, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Archie Holmes, who has been helping coordinate the project, said the institute would include the College of Arts & Sciences’ Democracy Initiative, Miller Center, the Center for Politics, the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy, the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, the Weldon Cooper Center, the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership and Morven.

 “It is unique at UVa in that it was not funded by a single donor or launched by a single faculty member but rather formed through a wide-reaching collaborative effort,” Holmes said. “As the Institute develops — including finalizing a timeline, a workplan, and selecting the issues and topics the Institute will focus on — we plan to engage additional departments and programs across Grounds.”

According to remarks on Tuesday, the effort is a fitting kickoff for the festival, which will bring former politicians, officials and pundits to UVa over the course of three days to discuss various aspects of the presidency and its effect on Americans. The festival was hosted by the nonpartisan Miller Center of Public Affairs and the College’s Democracy Initiative.

Event registration is full but those interested in the festival can see the full schedule and watch panel discussions and keynote speeches online at