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Nancy L. Thomas

Senior Advisor to the President for Democracy Initiatives and Executive Director; IDHE, American Association of Colleges and Universities
Chapter Member: Boston SSN

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About Nancy

Thomas' research focuses on political learning and democratic engagement; equity, diversity, and inclusion; academic freedom and free speech, and; legal issues in higher education. She directs research on higher education’s role in American democracy, including the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE). Thomas currently serves as an associate editor for the Journal of Public Deliberation and senior associate with Everyday Democracy.

In the News

Opinion: "We Shouldn’t be Making it Harder for College Students to Vote," Nancy L. Thomas, The Washington Post, November 21, 2018.
Research discussed by Nicole Dunlap, in "Navigating Rapid Change in Higher Education," The Signal, October 21, 2018.
Opinion: "More Students Expected to Vote in 2018 Midterms," Nancy L. Thomas, The Conversation, October 15, 2018.
Quoted by Jasmine Liu in "Why Voting Counts - Even if Your Vote Barely Counts," The Stanford Daily, October 12, 2018.
Quoted by Hallie Busta in "Three Issues College Leaders Should be Ready to Address Now," Education Dive, October 2, 2018.
Research discussed by Claire Hansen, in "Here's How Colleges Can Get More Involved in Elections - and Not Just in the Midterms," The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 9, 2018.
Quoted by Jen McAndrew in "How to Increase Voting and Strengthen Political Learning on College Campuses," TuftsNow, August 9, 2018.
Research discussed by David Bornstein, in "Getting Student Power into the Voting Booth," New York Times, July 4, 2018.
Opinion: "The Gathering Storm: Free Speech on Campus," Nancy L. Thomas, Campus Compact Blog, May 8, 2017.
Opinion: "A New Era of Student Unrest," Nancy L. Thomas, Inside Higher Education, February 7, 2017.


"Educating for Democracy in Undemocratic Contexts: Avoiding the Zero-Sum Game of Campus Free Speech Versus Inclusion" eJournal of Public Affairs (2018).

Discusses how the debate over free speech and inclusion in higher education has reached new levels of vitriol and confusion as legislators and others beyond the academy argue for unfettered speech. Argues that the solution lies in fostering discussion about democratic principles and practices as well as a sense of shared responsibility among members of a campus community for student learning and success.

"The Politically Engaged Classroom" (with Margaret Brower), in Teaching Civic Engagement across the Disciplines, edited by Elizabeth Matto, Alison Rios Millet McCartney, Elizabeth Bennion, Dick Simpson (American Political Science Association, 2017), 21-33.

Presents discussion-based teaching as a pedagogical approach for faculty members to create learning opportunities for their students across disciplines.

"The Case for Academic Freedom: Student Opinions, Faculty Standards" Dean & Provost (2017).

Discusses the events leading up to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruling decision in Pompeo v. Board of Regents of the University of New Mexico to rule in favor of a university that had been accused of discriminating against a student because of her political views. Explains the relevant legal precedent, and takeaways professors in the classroom. 

"The Politics of Learning for Democracy" Diversity & Democracy 18, no. 4 (2015).

Places college student political learning and participation in a broader context by focusing on two long-standing struggles in higher education: how the academy achieves its civic mission, and how it protects and earns its freedom to achieve that mission.

"Democracy by Design" Journal of Public Deliberation 10, no. 1 (2014).

Discusses how to renew U.S. democracy by ensuring that Americans have an understanding of how American democracy works in order to become engaged citizens. 

"Civic Engagement and Political Leadership among Women - a Call for Solutions," (with Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg), The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, May 1, 2013.

Summarizes past research and new Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) findings related to civic and political engagement among girls and women.

"Educating for Deliberative Democracy" New Directions for Higher Education, no. 152 (2011).

Explores the critical role that higher education can play alongside expanding coalitions of civic organizations, public officials, and everyday citizens in strengthening democracy. At the heart of these efforts is a conviction that persistent public problems call for dialogue and deliberation that result in collective action by diverse groups of informed, skilled, motivated, and principled citizens--what many call deliberative democracy.