Melody Barnes

Executive Director of the UVA Karsh Institute of Democracy

Fast Facts

  • Director of White House Domestic Policy Council under President Barack Obama
  • Former executive vice president of the Center for American Progress
  • Chief counsel to Sen. Edward M. Kennedy
  • Expertise on democracy, public policy, health policy, civil rights

Areas Of Expertise

  • Domestic Affairs
  • Health
  • Law and Justice
  • Social Issues
  • Economic Issues
  • Leadership
  • Politics
  • The Presidency

Melody Barnes is executive director of the UVA Karsh Institute of Democracy and co-director for policy and public affairs for the Democracy Initiative, an interdisciplinary teaching, research, and engagement effort led by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. She is the J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance at the Miller Center and is also a distinguished fellow at the UVA School of Law. A co-founder of the domestic strategy firm MB2 Solutions LLC, Barnes has spent more than 25 years crafting public policy on a wide range of domestic issues. 

During the administration of President Barack Obama, Barnes was assistant to the president and director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. She was also executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and chief counsel to the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her experience includes an appointment as director of legislative affairs for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights. Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. 

Barnes earned her BA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she graduated with honors in history, and her JD from the University of Michigan. She serves on the boards of directors of several corporate, non-profit, and philanthropic organizations.


Melody Barnes News Feed

The University of Virginia Karsh Institute of Democracy will be holding a two-day event in September to talk about the future of democracy. The featured speakers are Melody Barnes of the Karsh Institute of Democracy; Julian Castor, the Housing and Urban Development Secretary in the Obama administration; John Dickerson of CBS News; Robert Dole of the American Enterprise Institute; Tom Perez, the Secretary of Labor in the Obama administration; former Congressman Denver Riggleman; Rashad Robinson of Color of Change; Stephanie Ruhle of NBC News/MSNBC; David Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group, and Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education in the George W. Bush administration.
Melody Barnes CBS19
The Karsh Institute can enhance and accelerate collaboration, according to its inaugural director, Melody Barnes. Barnes directed the White House Domestic Policy Council under President Obama, and co-directed policy and public affairs at UVA's Democracy Initiative.
Melody Barnes C-Ville Weekly
Incoming executive director Melody Barnes said she hopes the institute will become a center for complex political discussion and debate, as well as a place to brainstorm and work through solutions to major problems facing democracy, The Progress reports.
Melody Barnes The Daily Progress
Colleges and universities are uniquely positioned to nurture democracy, and to strengthen the norms and cultural beliefs that are necessary for it to function.
Jim Ryan and Melody Barnes
Melody C. Barnes, currently co-director of the Democracy Initiative, will serve as inaugural director of the Karsh Institute of Democracy. Barnes directed the White House Domestic Policy Council under former President Barack Obama, and is excited about bringing UVA’s best scholarship and research directly to the public and to policymakers.
Melody C. Barnes UVA Today
Melody Barnes, currently co-director of UVa’s Democracy Initiative, will serve as the institute’s inaugural executive director. Barnes was the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council under then-President Barack Obama. “My role is to literally build the institute, working across Grounds with the seven centers and schools that already do great democracy work here so that we can better collaborate and bring a greater intensity to that work by identifying the places where together we can do more than we can do as individual institutions, and then to also think about the practical and unique programs and projects that the institute can do,” Barnes said.
Melody Barnes The Daily Progress