Presidents’ Trust Town Hall

Cultivating a Just & Inclusive Democracy


In recent years, faith in institutions, government, and democracy has plummeted, especially among traditional college-aged students. As political polarization and intolerance for difference continue to grow and thrive in the United States, colleges and universities have an essential role in supporting a healthy democracy.

The urgency of this work was reinforced by events at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. It is further complicated by unprecedented intrusion into curricula and tenure processes, and the politization of long-held standards for free speech and freedom of expression in the academic environment, striking at the core of liberal education as a philosophy of learning intended to free the mind.

At a time when interrupted monologue prevails as the dominant mode of civic and political discourse, liberal education can cultivate dispositions that enable productive dialogue and democratic debate. Liberal education can unleash the potential of those otherwise most likely to be excluded from full participation in civic and economic life.

This virtual town hall will provide a space for higher education leaders and partners to reflect critically on higher education’s past civic engagement work and explore liberal education’s ongoing role and responsibility in supporting a healthy democracy, educating for effective citizenship and civic engagement, and conveying the values of pluralism, respect, and inclusion.

Presented by AAC&U and James Madison University, this event is intended for higher education leaders and partners, and complimentary for members of AAC&U’s Presidents’ Trust.

Co-Presented by:

TRUST ME Documentary

As part of our ongoing commitment to educating for democracy, AAC&U has partnered with the Getting Better Foundation (GBF) to share the award-winning documentary TRUST ME at a 50% discount for participants in this Town Hall. TRUST ME explores manipulation and misinformation and the importance of digital literacy as part of a 21st century education.

Conference Themes

    • Urgency to discuss support healthy democracy
    • Critiques that colleges share the blame for assault on democracy
    • The importance of an equity-first lens
    • Collaborating with partners and organizations outside of higher education (including K-12 schools and other non-profit organizations)
    • Support for voter registration and participation, and other forms of civic engagement
    • Facilitating difficult conversations on campus in the face of political polarization
    • Countering misinformation
    • Teaching advocacy and developing civic agency
    • Incorporating civic education across the curriculum
    • Using the presidential and institutional voice
    • The politics of racial justice
    • Inclusion, free speech, and political correctness
    • Partnering with community
    • Countering mistrust of expertise and higher education generally, along with perceptions of higher education as a bastion of liberalism

Schedule at a Glance

All times are EDT and are subject to change.

1:00–1:15 p.m. Welcome and Overview of Town Hall Content and Format

1:15–2:15 p.m. Supporting a Healthy Democracy

2:30–3:30 p.m. Educating for Effective Citizenship and Civic Engagement

3:45–4:45 p.m. Conveying Values: Pluralism, Respect, and Inclusion

4:45–5:00 p.m. Closing Remarks and Takeaways

Each session will include:

  • Framing by a presenter, with questions for discussion; for example:
    • How will presidents support civic renewal?
    • How will colleges and universities collaborate toward solutions that unite, rather than divide?
    • What are the best ways for AAC&U to continue to advocate for higher education’s commitment to educating citizens at a time of racial injustice and assaults on democracy?
    • How can AAC&U support campus leaders and member institutions in navigating identity politics, cancel culture, the chilling of conservative voices, and legislative constraints?
  • Small group conversations focused on recommendations and actions, led by discussants.
  • Report outs on future commitments and frameworks for collaboration.

Confirmed Speakers

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President, James Madison University

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President, Vassar College

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President Emeritus and University Professor, University of Richmond

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Executive Director, College Promise



President, AAC&U

Discussion Facilitators

ROSLYN CLARK ARTIS, President, Benedict College

DIANA AVIV, Chief Executive Officer, Partnership for American Democracy

JENNIFER DOMAGAL-GOLDMAN, Executive Director, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge

ASHLEY FINLEY, Vice President for Research, AAC&U

MARY DANA HINTON, President, Hollins College

TIMOTHY EATMAN, Dean of the Honors Living-Learning Community and Associate Professor of Urban Education, Rutgers University - Newark

ALICIA B. HARVEY-SMITH, President/CEO, Pittsburgh Technical College

LARRY D. JOHNSON, JR., President, Stella and Charles Guttman Community College

JAMIE MERISOTIS, President and Chief Executive Officer, Lumina Foundation

BRIAN MURPHY, President Emeritus, De Anza College

KATHLEEN MURRAY. President, Whitman College

ACE PARSI, Senior Director of Outreach and Partnerships for Educating for American Democracy, iCivics

VALERIE ROBERSON, President, Roxbury Community College

RONALD S. ROCHON, President, University of Southern Indiana

MICHAEL ROTH, President, Wesleyan College

CHRISTINA ROYAL, President, Holyoke Community College

YVES SALOMON-FERNANDEZ, Senior Vice President for Operations Planning, Southern New Hampshire University

IVY R. TAYLOR, President, Rust College

NANCY THOMAS, Director, Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University’s Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life