Chapman University has received a $3 million gift from the William S. and Nancy E. Thompson Foundation to establish the Thompson Policy Institute (TPI) on Disability and Autism, a new think tank that will gather data and develop its own independent research to study and advocate on topics surrounding the issues of disability and autism. The institute’s goals will be to educate policymakers and decision-makers on these topics, and improving the lives of children and adults with disabilities and their families.
“In areas like autism, there is new information to consider almost daily,” said Don Cardinal, Ph.D., professor of education at Chapman University, who will lead the new Thompson Policy Institute as Principal Investigator. “Now, thanks to this generous gift from Bill and Nancy Thompson, we will gather findings on these critical issues and present them in a way that can be clearly understood by both the professional and the layperson. Central to our mission, we are dedicated to a completely objective, bias-free treatment of all issues on which we focus.”
“Public policy is much more than research and data,” said Amy-Jane Griffiths, Ph.D., who will serve as director of the Thompson Institute. “We believe that sharing this knowledge will be a powerful tool in making significant and lasting change in our society, positively impacting the real lives of people with disabilities, their families and their communities.”
Bill Thompson, retired chairman of Pacific Investment Management Company (PIMCO), said, “Public policies in schools, agencies and government at all levels impact nearly every issue within the disability community. But good policy requires quality, impartial data presented in an understandable way. Nancy and I are confident that Chapman, through this new policy institute, can make a significant positive impact on the lives of people we care so much about.”
Daniele Struppa, Ph.D., chancellor and president-designate of Chapman University, added, “It has been a real pleasure to work with such dedicated and forward-looking people as Bill and Nancy Thompson; Don Thompson, the director of the Thompson Foundation; and Don Cardinal in creating the TPI.”
Dr. Cardinal explained that the TPI’s stakeholders at first will be decision-makers who can influence the lives of people with disabilities in Orange County and California: government legislators, school officials and teachers, direct service agencies and professional organizations, as well as people with disabilities and their families. “Our goal is to expand from local and regional to national influence over the next few years as we continue to disseminate clear, unbiased information and, when the data are overwhelming in one direction, to advocate for that policy change,” he said.
Dr. Cardinal explained that a typical policy issue the TPI might examine would be the immunization debate and whether childhood immunizations really “cause” autism. “Current medical data strongly suggest that they do not,” he said. “Nevertheless, the debate continues and may have a significant impact on all children and families. We intend to avoid the assumption that anyone countering these studies is misinformed or ignorant, as some have said. Instead, we will survey stakeholders, conduct interviews and study the data so we can provide an unbiased report of our findings. In this manner, such a complex issue can be understood, and decision-makers – including families – can make informed decisions based on facts.”
The Thompson Policy Institute will be headquartered in Reeves Hall on the Chapman University campus in Orange, with an initial staff of four, along with several select expert consultants. The Institute will begin its work immediately, Dr. Cardinal said.
The Thompson Policy Institute has also scheduled an event to discuss the state of disability in Orange County, which will be open to the public on May 3, 2016 in Chapman University’s new Marybelle and Sebastian P. Musco Center for the Arts. The Thompson Policy Institute DisAbility Summit will summarize and present the institute’s findings from its first six months of research and data-gathering. Plans are for the TPI DisAbility Summit to be an annual event. Check the TPI website periodically for an official invitation and sign-up: