Former White House Domestic Policy Council Director Joins UVA Law as Distinguished Fellow

Melody Barnes to Bring Policymaking Experience to New Class
Melody Barnes

Melody Barnes, who worked as White House Domestic Policy Council director under the Obama Administration, has joined UVA Law as a distinguished fellow.

June 28, 2017

Melody Barnes, a former White House Domestic Policy Council director, has joined the University of Virginia School of Law as a distinguished fellow.

Barnes' UVA appointment began earlier this month. In addition, she serves as a senior fellow and Compton Visiting Professor in World Politics at the University’s Miller Center.

Barnes worked for President Barack Obama from 2009-12. During that time, she provided strategic advice to the president and worked with members of his cabinet to coordinate his domestic policy agenda. Barnes addressed national challenges in the areas of education, health care and the federal government’s relationship with local governments and communities. Barnes was also involved in aspects of policymaking associated with first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign and the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill.

Barnes will teach a two-credit policy simulation course at the Law School each semester. Students will learn about the office of the presidency — and how it and the executive branch — have evolved. Students will also work through the policymaking process from the perspective of the executive branch and the president's office.

"The second portion of the class will be what I'm calling the 'Roosevelt Room Sessions,'" Barnes said. The Roosevelt Room is the place in the White House where the senior staff meets with the president for briefings and discussions of key issues. "Those sessions will focus on the range of issues and challenges the president, his staff and the cabinet address during the policymaking process.  We’ll address different issues every week."

She said she looks forward to engaging with students who are “curious about policymaking and the decision-making process — whether or not they’re interested in a career in government."

Barnes' class will add to the experiential learning opportunities in the Law School's curriculum, Dean Risa Goluboff said, among them clinics, externships, pro bono projects and skills-based and simulation courses.

”Melody’s wealth of experience as a lawyer, a policymaker and an executive adviser will greatly enrich our offerings," Goluboff said. "Many of our students hope to make policy themselves one day. Melody’s background and insight, as well as her energy and unique pedagogical approach, will both inspire and prepare them for such a future.”

The director's job wasn't the first time Barnes worked for Obama. She also served as senior domestic policy adviser to the Obama for America campaign and the Obama-Biden Transition Project from July 2008 to January 2009.

She described the transition as "the biggest M&A takeover in the world. You've got a new party coming into office — significant personnel, litigation, regulatory and policy decisions to be made — and it's critical that you get that right because there are so many moving pieces."

Barnes' previous experience includes serving as chief counsel and general counsel to Sen. Edward Kennedy '59 on the Senate Judiciary Committee, as assistant counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, and as director of Legislative Affairs for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In addition, Barnes was the executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, a research institute and think tank.

She also co-founded MB2 Solutions, a domestic strategy firm that advises nonprofits, philanthropy and the private sector.

Barnes currently serves on the boards of Ventas Inc., Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., the Marguerite Casey Foundation, Year Up, Institute for Contemporary Art at VCU and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation. In addition, she chairs the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions and Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund.

Her work at the Aspen Institute, Barnes said, grew out of the White House Council for Community Solutions, which worked closely with the Domestic Policy Council. The Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund supports local groups working with youths aged 16-24 who are disconnected from education and the labor market. The Incentive Fund now has programs in 23 communities across the nation.

"We are starting to see evidence of transformation and change for young adults in those communities," she said.

Barnes began her career as an attorney with Shearman & Sterling in New York City. She holds a J.D. from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

News Highlights