Nicole Neily is the president of Speech First. Nicole grew up passionate about civil liberties thanks to her family history; her grandparents, both Japanese-American citizens born in California, met in the Manzanar War Relocation Center during WWII. In college, Nicole joined the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) student group and passed out “know your rights” cards to over 8,000 sorority members while serving as vice president of risk management for the University of Illinois’ Panhellenic Council, the largest Greek system in the country at the time.
Nicole’s commitment to First Amendment protections was strengthened while serving as the president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, an investigative journalism nonprofit focused on highlighting abuses of power, cronyism, and government overreach in the states. Watchdog journalists frequently uncovered misdeeds in various universities across the country – including the cronyism scandal at the University of Texas that led to the departure of powerful university president Bill Powers. Through tenacity, shoe leather, and countless Freedom of Information Act requests, reporters worked to hold Ivory Tower administrators (and others) accountable.
Nicole has also worked in the private sector as a senior vice president at Dezenhall Resources, a DC-based communications firm; as executive director and senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum; as manager of external relations for the Cato Institute; and as director of research analysis for the Winston Group, a public opinion and message design firm.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois, and a master’s of public policy from Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy. Originally from the Chicago suburbs, she now lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Clark and two children.