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Universities have a long-held responsibility to cultivate the next generation of well-informed, productively engaged, and committed citizens. Higher education prepares the next generation of leaders, produces knowledge that helps drive progress, and deeply influences broader society. College campuses remain among the few diverse spaces in American society where people of different backgrounds and beliefs are brought together to share experiences and exchange ideas.

This is a critical moment for American democracy and American higher education. Both face a crisis of confidence, declining participation and trust, increased polarization, and doubts about their future. There is near-daily media coverage of campus protests, debates about free speech and cancel culture, and threats of student harm.

Students are struggling and lack the skills, habits, knowledge, practices, and norms to live in a multicultural and interconnected democracy. College presidents are frequently criticized for policies and practices deemed intolerant, discriminatory, inconsistent, or political, with few opportunities to connect and collaborate with fellow presidents.

There is an urgency to address these issues, but no clear path to do it. College Presidents for Civic Preparedness provides a way forward.

Convened by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars, this unique consortium brings together diverse college presidents from a broad range of higher education institutions across the country. Created by, with, and for these leaders, we aim to ensure that students can engage in civil discussions, express themselves responsibly, and actively participate in their communities.

At its core, the consortium upholds three Civic Commitments, which offer a fresh, realistic, and reasonable framework for free expression, civil discourse, and civic preparedness. This shared set of guidelines rejects the false binary of free expression vs. diversity and helps shape a new action agenda to advance higher education’s role in a democracy.

Through the exchange of ideas and best practices, members coordinate their efforts to champion civil discourse across curriculum and campus life. Equipped with essential tools, convenings, and opportunities for peer learning, presidents are empowered to advance free expression, civil discourse, and critical inquiry, which are essential civic norms, to prepare students to be effective citizens.

Born out of a collective resolve, a group of university presidents first came together in 2022 to redefine the role of higher education in civic preparedness. In August 2023, the initiative was publicly launched with 15 founding presidents. In light of global events in October 2023, the imperative of this work has only intensified, garnering national attention. Now, we welcome participation from leaders of higher education institutions across the country.

Together, College Presidents for Civic Preparedness is reaching a critical mass of young people to ensure they are ready to enter the public sphere and lead our democracy in the future.

Major Milestones

MARCH 2022

Initial conversations with Citizens & Scholars and a group of college presidents on how to best prepare students for democratic life


First annual convening at Stanford University


August 2–4 Faculty Institute convening at Duke University

Public launch of College Presidents for Civic Preparedness with 15 presidents, including new initiatives on free expression and civil discourse, such as Campus Call for Free Expression and new student orientations


College presidents kickoff academic year promoting free expression in convocation speeches

FALL 2023

Featured in AP, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Hill, Forbes, CNN, and PBS Newshour “America at a Crossroads”

APRIL 2024

National launch of newly expanded College Presidents for Civic Preparedness