25 Years of a Good Thing: Center for Politics Celebrates Silver Anniversary

March 29, 2024
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It’s been 25 years since UVA’s Center for Politics was created with the hope of addressing the lack of civility in politics, as well as insufficient civic education and citizen participation. To celebrate, the center is hosting a slate of programs April 5-7. (Illustration by John DiJulio, University Communications)

The University of Virginia Center for Politics, formed in the raucous political environment of the late 1990s and forged by rancorous partisanship into a respected source of political analysis and civic education, turns 25 years old this week.

Center officials are celebrating the anniversary April 5-7 with a slate of programs, speeches, musical performances and discussions. On April 6, the center will celebrate the groundbreaking for its building expansion.

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“Our gala events sum up what the center has always provided: perspective on the past and insight on what’s next, with a little fun sprinkled in,” Kyle Kondik, the center’s director of communications, said.

“We’ll be looking ahead to both our own future – breaking ground on a building expansion – and the upcoming election with a focus on both the horse race aspect, the daunting possibility of election interference by artificial intelligence, and we’ll also have a fun look at political history, with a concert of campaign songs.”

The Center for Politics was created at a time when partisanship began eclipsing cooperation.

“The lack of civility in politics, and insufficient civic education and citizen participation, were nothing new, but by the late 1990s things were becoming worse,” Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato said. “Opponents had become enemies, not just adversaries. The internet, early social media, some scandals involving President Bill Clinton and the aggressive policies of GOP congressional majorities were combining in destructive ways. So, it seemed like a good time to address these issues and suggest practical antidotes.”

Larry Sabato in a University office

Larry Sabato, the center’s director, says the center was designed to suggest practical antidotes to a political climate where opponents had become enemies and scandal and aggressive party policies were combining in destructive ways. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak)

The first hurdle, as in most new enterprises, was money.

“I started going to the General Assembly in the late 1960s, so I knew a few people who were persuaded by the need,” Sabato said. “One in particular got us off the ground: senior Del. Whitt Clement, chair of the House Appropriations Committee.”

Clement served eight years on the UVA Board of Visitors and as rector between 2021 and 2023.

“On the University side, President Emeritus John Casteen and former Vice President Leonard Sandridge could not have been more helpful,” Sabato said.

The center was created to “educate and inspire our citizenry about practical politics and civic engagement” and instill “an appreciation for the core values of American freedom, justice, equality, civility, and service,” the center’s website says.

A nonpartisan program, the center has appointed two professors of practice, former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who started in March 2023, and Martin Luther King III, who joined this month.

Kyle Kondik

Kyle Kondik, the center’s director of communications, notes the center has appointed two professors of practice, former U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, who started in March 2023, and Martin Luther King III, who joined this month. (Contributed photo)

“Professor King’s first appearance as professor of practice will be during the center’s 25th anniversary weekend, which also happens to be the 56th anniversary of the April 4, 1968, assassination of, his father, Dr. King,” Kondik said. “(Professor King) will be traveling directly from Memphis to Charlottesville on April 5 where he’ll speak at our concert in Old Cabell Hall, where his father spoke in 1963, and will give a luncheon address at the center on April 6. He will also be at the gala dinner.”

With a new building approved and planned expansion of its programs, Sabato said center staff is “excited about what we’ve been able to do in a quarter-century as well as what is on the horizon.”

Although politics in general is far from less acrimonious, Sabato said the political process is still good because it is the way society accomplishes goals.

“In recent years, politics has not been the most pleasant place to be, but we are still committed to the proposition that ‘Politics is a good thing!’” Sabato said, referencing his longtime personal slogan. “May it always be so.”

Media Contact

Bryan McKenzie

Assistant Editor, UVA Today Office of University Communications