Melody Barnes

Professor of Practice in Public Affairs and Co-Director of the Democracy Initiative

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

Areas Of Expertise

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

Melody Barnes is 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 a professor of practice at the Miller Center and 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

America has become increasingly red or blue. But Melody Barnes sees a way forward.
Democracy Journal
“At a fraught moment in history when democracies, including our own, are enduring extraordinary stresses, the University of Virginia will help navigate the dangers and draw lessons from best practices around the world,” said William J. Antholis, Director and CEO of the Miller Center.

The second differentiating component behind the Democracy Initiative is that UVA is, to quote Co-Director Melody C. Barnes, “also studying the rest of the world and making connections between what is happening here and what is happening in democracies around the world.”
William Antholis and Melody Barnes Inside Philanthropy
To lead the Initiative, the University appointed Melody Barnes, former director of the Domestic Policy Council for former U.S. President Barack Obama;s administration, to be co-director of policy and public affairs of the Democracy Initiative.
Melody Barnes The Cavalier Daily
Director of UVA's new Democracy Initiative, Melody Barnes speaks with UVA Today about her time in the White House, UVA, and Monticello and Jefferson
Caroline Newman / UVA Today
Melody Barnes says citizens in the United States have important rights and responsibilities. The co-director for policy and public affairs at the Democracy Initiative at the University of Virginia says it requires we participate and be educated about our country.
Melody Barnes WMUK
We sat down with Barnes, College of Arts & Sciences Dean Ian Baucom and Miller Center Director and CEO William J. Antholis, who also held a staff position at the White House National Security Council and the National Economic Council, to learn more about the new initiative and how students and alumni can get involved.
Melody Barnes UVA Today