This year’s Ridenour Conference and High Table Celebration will address the central theme of “Faith in the System: Restoring Trust in Government in a Time of Complex Governing Challenges.” The two-day event will include a line-up of influential speakers and feature discussion panels led by faculty from the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA).

The Ridenour Conference and High Table event will bring together the best brightest minds from across Virginia Tech to lead discussions about key issues affecting public trust in government and the role planning professionals, academics and citizens can play in restoring confidence in the system.

Here are few programmatic highlights from the upcoming conference:

  • Keynote Address by Dr. Marc Edwards–Dr. Edwards is the Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. His keynote address will discuss his role in uncovering lead in the water supply of Flint, Michigan that has come to be known as the Flint Water Crisis, and the role of academics and scientists in the public arena.
  • Keynote Follow-up Discussant Panel: Where Are the Public Intellectuals? Discussing the Role of Academics and Scientists in the Public Arena–Following Dr. Edward’s keynote address will be a discussion focusing on idea of the public intellectual and the role of scientists and academics in addressing public problems. It will also deal with the need for academics and scientists to be able to bridge the gap of knowledge by being able to effectively communicate their work with the general public.“This discussion is really about the loss of the public intellectual in American life,” said Dr. Max Stephenson, Director for SPIA’s Institute for Policy and Governance and one of the panelists for this discussion. “Ultimately, it’s about sharing different forms of knowledge and figuring out how to translate that. We have to teach academics how to be able to do that–how to write for the broader public not just your peers,” Stephenson said.
  • Panel Discussion: Trust in New Technology in Governance: How the age of big data, e-governance and smart cities impact trust in governance–With the rapid advancement of technology and its pervasiveness in all aspects of our lives, it is essential to consider the impacts it has on our trust in government. This panel will explore the significance of these new systems like e-governance and smart cities and how dependence on technology affects trust in government.We will discuss public perceptions of the trustworthiness of government use of highly personal data,” said Dr. Sara Jordan, Assistant Professor for the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) and discussion panelist. Dr. Jordan will share her work on the difference between how the government responds to information requests for data (requests from organized professionals versus individuals expressing interest singly), public perceptions of trust, and how that plays into the democratic effectiveness of government. “In CPAP, we’re working to identify the dimensions of trustworthiness in government today, responding to more diverse concerns about the role of the constitution and more pluralistic ethical perspectives,” Jordan said.
  • Panel Discussion featuring guest panelist Dr. Virgil A. Wood: The Future of Work and Income in an Era of Economic Inequality–Globalization and technology have fundamentally altered the economic landscape and traditional notions of labor and capital. Despite the recent economic recovery in the U.S., there remains a growing economic disparity. The GDP has grown, but less and less is going to labor each year, family income has plateaued, while the top 10-1 percent reap greater profits. This panel will take a closer look at these major socio-economic and political shifts and discuss what could be done to reduce economic inequality and reestablish trust in government. This panel will feature a special guest panelist, the renowned civil rights activist, Dr. Virgil A. Wood, Pastor Emeritus, Pond Street Baptist Church. Dr. Wood was a contemporary and colleague of Dr. Martin Luther King and worked to speak out on this inequality between labor and capital.“We’re looking at the future of work given that the structure of employment is constantly challenged by technology and globalization,” said Dr. Ralph Hall, Associate Professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning program. “We plan to explore why this is happening and what strategies exist to create meaningful work and income streams that can support families” Hall said.

    “Having Dr. Virgil Wood join us adds an extra dimension to the event. His role as a civil rights leader with Martin Luther King, Jr., as an educator, and a spiritual and community leader, will bring a unique depth to our conversation.” Hall said.

    “Dr. Wood’s work with MLK and Louis Kelso will be discussed during our panel, with a particular focus on how MLK’s Economic Dream agenda could be realized by advancing the financial and economic ideas of Kelso,” Hall said. “It is truly an honor to have him share his unique historic perspective on these ideas with faculty and students.”

  • High Table lecture by Professor Christopher Foreman–This year’s High Table lecturer is Professor Christopher Foreman, professor and director of the social policy program at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy. Dr. Foreman will speak on the topic “Scholarship for Citizenship: a Public Affairs Research Odyssey.”

The Ridenour conference will he held March 24-25, at the Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center. Registration and check in for the event will take place starting at 9 AM on March 24 in the conference center lobby. All are welcome and encouraged to attend, but it is requested that you RSVP in advance as space is limited.

Additional details about the schedule of events, presentations, and speakers will be available on the conference event page.