UVA Academic and Student Life Committee introduced to new A-School Dean, Democracy Institute director

After the Buildings and Grounds Committee concluded on Thursday, the Academic and Student Life Committee met and heard from the new dean of the School of Architecture and the director of the Karsh Institute for Democracy.  

First up: Malo Hutson took over as Dean of the School of Architecture at the beginning of the academic year. He previously was at Columbia University where he directed the Urban Communities and Health Equity Lab. Hutson said the study of architecture is focused on the public realm. 

“We’re focused on addressing some of the biggest issues of the world, ranging from climate change all the way to the importance of cultural landscape and heritage, to thinking about do you build with healthy materials and so forth and transportation,” Hutson said. 

Hutson said the School of Architecture has several priorities and values shared with the rest of the UVA Community. He said the four departments in the school are all focused on climate resilience and climate justice, as well as equity and inclusion. Hutson said faculty and staff have an eye on Virginia’s needs as they craft the Climate Justice Initiative. 

“We know that we are susceptible to storms and flooding all kinds of things that are going on and so how do we engage in a way from whether we’re talking about Northern Virginia to Hampton Roads to all the way in Southwest Virginia?”

A slide from Hutson’s presentation to the Academic and Student Life Committee of the Board of Visitors (download)t

The Karsh Institute of Democracy exists to reflect on the same basic question. Melody Barnes is the first executive director of the new entity which was founded in 2018. She said democracy is in trouble in the United States and around the world, citing a CBS News poll from January.

“Seventy-one percent of Americans believe that democracy in the United States is threatened,” Barnes said. “A more recent poll from just about a month ago, the Pew Research Center indicates that there are about 19 percent of Americans who believe that American democracy is still a role model for democracy in the world.”

Barnes said the University of Virginia is well-positioned to take up the cause and the Democracy Initiative has built on the work. 

“We also believe that this is a moment that we have to do more and that we are well-situated to do more,” Barnes said. 

Barnes said the Institute will be public-facing and will seek to engage with the community around UVA. 

“We want to use this moment, we want to leverage the assets and resources that we have to develop solutions, best practices, and new ideas to address the very challenges I just mentioned,” Barnes said. 

This Institute’s mission is to “generate new ideas and share them with policymakers and citizens” but Barnes said the work doesn’t stop there.

“But then we translate them and use diverse communications channels to push them into the public bloodstream,” Barnes said. “To engage policymakers, journalists, the private sector, the public and beyond so people can take those ideas up, they can be debated. They can become policy. They can become practice. They can start to shape the way that we think, talk about, and do democracy. Hopefully the best ideas get taken to scale.” 

Barnes said one idea may be to offer a prize related to a specific solution. For instance, the Aspen Institute offers $1 million for community college excellence

“We are thinking that a X Prize for Democracy in partnership with others and leveraging the assets of the University and all the knowledge that’s here could be a wonderful way to bringing greater attention to some specific challenges that are facing democracy,” Barnes said. 

Barnes said a democratic society will always face existential challenges. She said the Institute will be set up to take a long-term view towards curating conversations.

“This will be the journey and an issue for the country I think for the life of the country,” Barnes said. “We will always be engaged in these battles and these debates.”  

Stay tuned. 

The Karsh Institute of Democracy will be located in the Emmet-Ivy Corridor

Before you go: The time to write and research of this article is covered by paid subscribers to Charlottesville Community Engagement. In fact, this particular installment comes from the December 13, 2021 edition of the program. To ensure this research can be sustained, please consider becoming a paid subscriber or contributing monthly through Patreon.

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