Do you trust the government and its institutions? According to a recent Gallup poll, Americans’ trust in their political leaders is at a historic low. However, at a time when conversations abound about fake news, potential foreign interference in U.S. elections, government hacking of private citizens’ personal information, confrontations fueled by outcries of discrimination that pit local law enforcement against the community, it is not surprising that people are expressing a growing degree of frustration and skepticism. So, how do governments cope with this level of distrust and the challenges it poses to their ability to provide services, protect citizens and respond to economic and social crises?

Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA) will address this and other questions regarding faith in the system at this year’s Ridenour Conference. The conference, hosted by SPIA, “helps promote our [SPIA’s] mission of public service leadership and turning scholarship into practice,” said Professor Anne Khademian Director for SPIA.

Following the central theme of “Faith in the System: Restoring Trust in Government in a Time of Complex Governing Challenges,” the conference will bring together the best and brightest minds from disciplines across the spectrum of Virginia Tech’s programs.

This is the fifth year for the Ridenour Conference, an endowed program for faculty and student development. “The conference’s goal is to engage faculty from across the university to exchange ideas around a chosen interdisciplinary theme,” Khademian said.

In addition to the regular programing offered by the Ridenour conference, this year SPIA is teaming up with the Center for Public Administration and Policy (CPAP) and their annual High Table event. “We are very excited to get to work with High Table this year,” Khademian said. “The subject matter chosen for the Ridenour Conference was a perfect alignment with High Table this year.”

CPAP’s High Table event brings together faculty and students in a ceremonious fashion to share a meal together and listen to a lecture by a distinguished scholar. 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.”

This year’s Ridenour Conference features an opening keynote address by Professor Marc Edwards, the Charles Lunsford Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, and special guest panelist Professor Virgil A. Wood, renowned civil rights activist, author and educator.

Dr. Edwards 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.

Dr. Wood will be part of a panel discussion examining rising income disparity in the face of globalization, rapid technological change and the ways in which economic trends impact trust in public officials.

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.