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Spring 2019 Call for Democracy Initiative Labs

Dec 11, 2018

Proposals due by Monday, March 4, 2019

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Submit a proposal here.


The College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences announces a new call for up to three Democracy Labs that bring faculty, Ph.D. students, post-docs, and undergraduates together to work on a project addressing enduring and contemporary challenges to democracy.


Across the world, democracies are facing extraordinary challenges — whether they are old, new, established, or aspiring.  The vision of democracy as globally ascendant, proclaimed by some as inevitable just a few short decades ago, has proven to be far more precarious than the most optimistic predictions foretold.  At the same time, older, more mature democracies have increasingly struggled with a host of pressures unleashed by successive waves of economic, societal, and cultural changes — developments that have revealed fundamental tensions within and between democratic principles and practices, bringing to light deep contradictions present from their founding moments.

The challenges confronting democracies today are as diverse in form as they are in origin, and it may be tempting to regard these phenomena as harbingers of decline:  the dissolution of a unified concept of “the public,” the failure of democratic states to effectively mediate social and economic inequalities, the erosion of faith in institutions.  While it is true that democracies today face daunting pressures, modern democracies have always had to struggle with their own contradictions and ambivalences in order to thrive.  In this light, moments of crisis can — and often do — emerge as steps toward a fuller realization of democracy’s fundamental promise.  Today, we see the opportunity to make democracy stronger, more resilient, and more true to its purpose.

Accordingly, the Democracy Initiative, alongside similar programs at the University of Virginia, addresses an urgent need in academia:  objective, interdisciplinary and expansive examination of the broad issues and challenges facing domestic and global democracy.  To achieve our goals, we are creating a constellation of three-year, rotating group labs that promote research, teaching, and engagement with public affairs.  Soon, we will convene a permanent Core Lab that attends to the principles and philosophy undergirding democracy, providing an enduring humanistic, philosophical, and artistic foundation, as well as an institutional repository for the vital, time-limited work that takes place among the rotating labs.     

Our objective is to study how democracies have fared – and can fare better in the future – in their efforts to achieve legitimacy, stability, civil equality, accountability, prosperity, and resilience in the face of contemporary and historic challenges.  Five aspirational pillars frame the Initiative: 

  1. Fact-based civil discourse and communications media
  2. Sustainable Economic growth that provides equal opportunity and mobility for all
  3. Resilient democratic governance in world affairs
  4. Trusted, effective and accountable governing institutions
  5. Inclusive and responsible citizenship built around liberty, equality, and tolerance

We welcome proposals that (1) identify challenges to and within democracy, (2) advance scholarship, and (3) articulate promising solutions or important next steps. 

Successful proposals will be selected based on how well they address contemporary or enduring challenges facing democracies; leverage existing faculty expertise; help train graduate students and serve the undergraduate population; and generate opportunities for public engagement.  The proposals may raise important conceptual questions that have policy implications. 

Proposal Components

Proposals should include:

  • An abstract (250 words or less) summarizing the proposed lab, including the challenge to or within democracy that it seeks to address.
  • A description of the project’s broad research, teaching, and public affairs objectives. Please be specific in describing the Democracy Initiative pillar the lab intends to address.  If the lab doesn’t fall directly under one of the pillars, please describe its relevance to the Initiative.
  • A description of the normative importance of the project, particularly given the current environment, or anticipated challenges to or within democracies.  What is the intended impact on scholarship and society?
  • A statement explaining the void the project fills (in the literature and/or for practitioners, policy makers or the private sector).
  • A discussion of why you are confident that the lab will achieve its goals. There are many ways to make your case, including proof of concept, previous research, or relevant case studies.
  • A statement explaining how the project draws on contributions from more than one department or school and contributes to the strength of research and teaching programs in more than one unit.
  • A research, teaching, and public affairs plan that describes the proposed activities that will take place during each of the years that the lab is funded. The project should be designed to be completed by June 2022 at the latest. In the unusual case that there is a critical reason to seek more than three years’ of funding, you can explain why here.  The plan should include:
    • A projected timeline (with a detailed schedule for the three-year window).
    • A list of current University of Virginia participants (e.g. faculty “fellows,” post-docs, and graduate students who may be involved in the project, and their potential roles).  Because we seek to enhance doctoral education at the University of Virginia through our investment in these initiatives, please list the names, departments and academic backgrounds of two to four doctoral students who will be formally affiliated with and funded by the proposed project.
    • A short description of a co-taught “Forum” that will bring the issues explored in the project to first- and second-year undergraduates beginning in academic year 2020-21 and through the life of the lab. (To learn more about the Forums, visit
    • Proposed partners based at the University of Virginia and in other sectors (for example, the private and NGO sectors; local, state, and federal governments; and/or international institutions).  Please share how and when partners will be engaged in the work of the lab.
    • A description of communications objectives and strategies (both in terms of research dissemination and public engagement).
    • Anticipated plans to use the newly-available Darden School of Business space in Rosslyn, Virginia (if relevant). 
  • Budget request and narrative.
  • Short (2-3 page) CVs for all current University of Virginia faculty that are part of the proposal.
  • Bibliography.
  • Letters of support from the chair or dean of all units contributing to the project.
  • Point of contact if there are additional questions from the selection committee.

The lab proposal may include a proposal for a tenure-track hire to bolster the lab’s research, teaching, and public engagement activities, and to build strength across department or school lines. This hire would be aligned with the provost’s Cluster Hire initiative, which requires hires to involve more than one unit. Please note, however, there is no commitment by the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences to hire per the request. Accordingly, proposals should not rest on additional faculty lines.

Budget Notes

Project budgets will support participating faculty members’ salaries during the term of the lab.  You may also include requests for partial teaching relief for the faculty PIs.  Proposals should consider how to integrate graduate students into the lab; labs will provide fellowship support to fund 3-5 of them while they are participating.  Each lab will also be expected to produce and offer two Forums, which will be funded by the project budget.  Other typical lab expenses include visiting faculty fellows and postdocs, as well as funding for research and public engagement. Please note that a portion of the budget should be dedicated to offsetting current costs (e.g., faculty teaching buy-outs, graduate student support), while other components can be for new, incremental activities.  The Dean’s Office will provide assistance in preparing budgets and offers the following guidelines on typical budget items:

  • Partial teaching buyouts to provide faculty leaders and faculty fellows with the time to devote to this project.
  • Summer wages for nine-month faculty who will have significant responsibilities that extend into the summer.
  • Post-doc(s).
  • Graduate fellowship(s) for current PhD students who will work in this lab in lieu of serving as a TA for one or two years.
  • Wages for undergraduate students who work in the lab.
  • Wages for a graduate student who provides admin support.
  • Visiting scholar(s).
  • The costs of supporting a co-taught Forum, including backfill funds for departments.
  • Research expenses.
  • Visiting speakers, conferences, and/or other events.

Important to Know

  • Please limit proposals to 10 pages, plus letters of support, work cited, and CVs.
  • All components of proposal should be saved in one document (either Word or PDF) and submitted by uploading the document below.
  • When drafting the proposal, remember that the selection committee will be comprised of peers who may or may not be experts in your field. The proposal should be compelling and the challenge to democracy that the lab will address clear and straightforward.
  • The selection committee may be in touch with more specific questions regarding the proposal.
  • Proposals not funded in this round of applications may be revised and re-submitted in subsequent years.
  • If you have a concept in mind for a lab but are unsure if it meets the criteria above, please be proactive and ask for assistance. The goal is to bring as many ideas to the fore as possible.

Proposal Deadline

Monday, March 4, 2019. Results will be announced no later than Monday, April 1, 2019, to enable departments to adjust teaching loads in 2019-20.

Two Informational Meetings (for interested faculty)

Monday, December 17, 1:00-2:00 PM in New Cabell Hall room 236
Tuesday, January 15, 2:00-3:00 PM in New Cabell Hall room 349

Download the Proposal Components

Democracy Initiative - Proposal Components (PDF)


Please direct questions to Melody Barnes or Jennifer Lawless.

Submit a Proposal