Institute for Democracy and Higher Education Transitions from Tufts University to AAC&U

Washington, DC, Oct. 31, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) announced today the transition of the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education from the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University to AAC&U. 

The Institute for Democracy and Higher Education (IDHE) is a nonpartisan applied research center focused on improving student and institutional engagement in US democracy. Straddling research and practice, IDHE has for more than a decade connected the multiple threats facing democracy, advocated for concentrated attention by US higher education, and promoted sustained, high-impact changes to campus learning environments and institutional commitments. IDHE serves as a resource for institutions and organizations throughout the higher education community.

“Earlier this year, AAC&U embarked on a five-year strategic plan founded on a newly revised mission statement that foregrounds the democratic purposes of higher education,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “As we pursue the goals set forth in the plan, we are thrilled by the opportunity to sustain and build on IDHE’s outstanding efforts to inform and shift college and university priorities, practices, and culture to strengthen democracy and advance social and political equity.”

As a presidential initiative of AAC&U, IDHE will focus on longstanding and emerging threats to democracy through research, strategic convenings, and faculty and curriculum development. IDHE will work directly with campuses to spotlight and address issues ranging from the rise of authoritarianism in some segments of American society, backsliding on civil rights, and the erosion of truth and facts in public discourse to the importance of nurturing the nation’s diversity, promoting inclusion and compassion, and protecting the role of educators in shaping learning environments.

Nancy Thomas, the founding director of IDHE, has joined the AAC&U staff as Senior Advisor to the President for Democracy Initiatives and Executive Director of IDHE. Throughout her career, Thomas has led efforts to advance democratic norms and practices in and through higher education. While at Tufts, Thomas designed, launched, and grew the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement (NSLVE), the nation’s largest and most significant measure of student voting and higher education’s best objective measure of student interest in public affairs. NSLVE now involves more than 1,200 colleges and universities nationwide, with a reach to nearly 11 million students annually. Previously, she co-founded and directed the Democracy Imperative, a national association of administrators and faculty working with civic organizations to advance deliberative democracy on college campuses and in local communities. Thomas is an attorney with expertise in First Amendment issues, specifically free speech and religious freedoms on campuses, as well as the preservation of academic freedom and institutional autonomy from unnecessary government intrusion.  

“US democracy, like democracy globally, is facing challenges such as stubborn inequality, backsliding on civil rights, disinformation, the growth of extremism, and challenges to academic freedom,” Thomas said. “Our vision is not to restore democracy as we’ve known it but to strive for a more aspirational version of democracy, one that works for everyone in an increasingly diverse nation. Now is the time to rally colleges and universities around their historic democratic purpose.”

More information about the Institute for Democracy and Higher Education is available online at

About AAC&U

The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) is a global membership organization dedicated to advancing the democratic purposes of higher education by promoting equity, innovation, and excellence in liberal education. Through our programs and events, publications and research, public advocacy, and campus-based projects, AAC&U serves as a catalyst and facilitator for innovations that improve educational quality and equity and that support the success of all students. In addition to accredited public and private, two-year, and four-year colleges and universities and state higher education systems and agencies throughout the United States, our membership includes degree-granting higher education institutions in more than twenty-five countries as well as other organizations and individuals. To learn more, visit


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