Dr. Thad Williamson
Associate Professor of Leadership Studies and Philosophy, Politics, Economics and Law

Dr. Thad Williamson is an associate professor of leadership studies and philosophy, politics, economics and law (PPEL). A sought-after professor and civic activist, his research focuses on the intersection of theories of social justice and public policy, particularly as applied to urban politics and economic policy.  He writes regularly on current issues for a wide variety of popular and scholarly publications.

Williamson is a recognized community leader on poverty reduction efforts in Richmond, having served as the first director of the city’s Office of Community Wealth Building while on leave from the University during the 2014–15 and 2015–16 academic years. The Office is charged with implementing a comprehensive poverty reduction initiative encompassing education, employment, housing, and transportation, aligned with the recommendations of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission. In December 2015, the Office of Community Wealth Building was ratified as a permanent city agency in legislation that also requires the city’s mayor to provide an annual update on progress in the effort according to a system of established goals and metrics. The Office of Community Wealth Building has been recognized nationally (including grant support from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation) as a promising municipal model for tackling systemic poverty in urban communities. Williamson previously served as a member of the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission and principal author of the commission’s final report, as well as co-chair of the Maggie L. Walker Initiative for Expanding Opportunity and Fighting Poverty, which developed specific implementation recommendations.

Following the November 2016 municipal elections, Williamson served as Transition Director for Mayor-elect Levar Stoney. In January 2017, Williamson was named Senior Policy Advisor for Opportunity to Mayor Stoney. Williamson is serving in the position in a part-time capacity while continuing to teach at the University.

He is currently working on a book-length study of contemporary Richmond, in collaboration with Dr. Amy Howard, assistant vice president of community initiatives and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond. The book will assess the role of leadership in addressing the city’s most pressing problems over the past generation.

Williamson’s previous academic work focuses on the application of contemporary theories of social justice to political and economic institutions. Williamson co-edited (with Martin O’Neill) and contributed to Property-Owning Democracy: Rawls and Beyond, published in 2012 by Wiley-Blackwell. The book provides the most in-depth assessment of John Rawls’s conception of what a just political economy might look like in practice yet available. Other recent books include Leadership and Global Justice, co-edited with Douglas A. Hicks and published by Palgrave Macmillan Press, and Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life, published by Oxford University Press.

Williamson serves on the board of Richmond Opportunities Incorporated, a nonprofit organization serving public housing residents in Richmond. Williamson also serves on the board of the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization supporting the success of students in Richmond Public Schools. He also serves on the editorial board of The Good Society and is a series editor for the Jepson Studies in Leadership book series. He is a 2012 recipient of the University's Distinguished Educator Award.

His additional books include Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era and More Than a Game: Why North Carolina Basketball Means So Much to So Many.

University of Richmond Distinguished Educator Award, 2012
Selected Publications

Property-Owning Democracy: Rawls and Beyond (New York: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

Leadership and Global Justice (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).

Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Making a Place for Community: Local Democracy in a Global Era (New York: Routledge Press, 2002). Co-author with David Imbroscio and Gar Alperovitz.


“Who Owns What? An Egalitarian Interpretation of John Rawls’s Idea of a Property-Owning Democracy.” Journal of Social Philosophy 40 (2009): 434-453.

“The Good Society and the Good Soul: Plato’s Republic on Leadership.” Leadership Quarterly 19 (2008): 397-408.

“Sprawl, Spatial Location, and Politics.” American Politics Research 36 (2008): 903-933.

“Local Policy Responses to Globalization: Place-based Ownership Models of Economic Enterprise,” Policy Studies Journal 31 (2003): 231-252.


“Beyond Sprawl and Anti-Sprawl.” In Jonathan Davies and David Imbroscio, eds. Critical Urban Studies: New Directions. (New York: SUNY Press, 2010).

“Leadership and Political Traditions, I: Conservatism, Liberalism, and Civic Republicanism.” In Richard Couto, ed. Political and Civic Leadership: A Reference Handbook. (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2010).

“The Challenge of Urban Sprawl.” With David Imbroscio and Gar Alperovitz. In Nancy Kleniewski, ed. Cities and Society. (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).

In the News

Mayor Levar M. Stoney Announces Administration Appointments
Fri., Jan. 20, 2017

Opinion: Three Life Lessons You May Not Expect From Bob Dylan
Tue., Oct. 25, 2016

Williamson Column: Mayoral Campaign
Mon., Aug. 29, 2016

Field Notes: Stoney's Education Platform
Wed., Aug. 10, 2016

How Did We End Up Here? (Richmond Magazine)
Thu., Jul. 28, 2016

Opinion: Why Tim Kaine is a Smart - and Progressive - Pick for Vice President (In These Times)
Wed., Jul. 27, 2016

Opinion: For VP, Kaine a bold choice (The Philadelphia Inquirer)
Mon., Jul. 25, 2016

Can concentrated wealth relieve concentrated poverty? (Washington Post)
Fri., Nov. 7, 2014

The former capital of the Confederacy's all-out plan to fight poverty and confront its past (Washington Post)
Tue., Sep. 2, 2014

Thad Williamson: The man driving the city's anti-poverty initiatives (RVA News)
Tue., Jun. 3, 2014

Mayor names University of Richmond professor to anti-poverty post (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Wed., Apr. 16, 2014

Reality check (Style Weekly)
Tue., Mar. 18, 2014

Opinion: Will Obama's words on inequality be backed by deeds? (Al Jazeera America)
Thu., Dec. 12, 2013

Opinion: Mandela sought balance between capitalism and socialism (Al Jazeera America)
Mon., Dec. 9, 2013

Opinion: Remarkable leadership (Inside Carolina)
Wed., Nov. 20, 2013

Williamson named co-chair of mayor's anti-poverty initiative
Thu., Aug. 8, 2013

Opinion: Seven habits of civically engaged human beings (Tikkun Daily)
Fri., Mar. 15, 2013

Opinion: Take real steps to reduce Richmond's poverty (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Mon., Feb. 18, 2013

Opinion: Improving Richmond city school performance (Style Weekly)
Tue., Feb. 5, 2013

Opinion: The cost of a society with no safety net (Style Weekly)
Wed., Dec. 12, 2012

Opinion: The new majority: The 2012 election results have shaken old assumptions about the contours of Richmond politics (Style Weekly)
Tue., Nov. 13, 2012

State senator switches endorsement in council race (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Thu., Oct. 25, 2012

Williamson discusses poverty in Richmond (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Mon., Oct. 15, 2012

Williamson writes on N.F.L. leadership and calls for resignation of league commissioner (The New York Times)
Wed., Sep. 26, 2012

Bike-race bickering must stop (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Fri., Sep. 14, 2012

Opinion: Small change: Has Obama accomplished anything of genuine significance for the city of Richmond?
Tue., Sep. 11, 2012

Williamson: Four bad arguments against the NCAA's Penn State ruling (and one good one)
Wed., Jul. 25, 2012

Williamson writes on Richmond's school rezoning process and the need for good leadership
Wed., May. 30, 2012

Richmond city public schools and budget recommendations
Tue., Apr. 24, 2012

Williamson comments on plan to sell public housing
Mon., Mar. 26, 2012

Professor opines on free expression of ideas (Style Weekly)
Thu., Mar. 15, 2012

Leadership studies professor comments in USA Today on stereotypes
Fri., Feb. 17, 2012

Why the Occupy movement won't go away (Richmond Times-Dispatch)
Fri., Nov. 4, 2011

Williamson opines on solving Richmond's poverty problem (Style Weekly)
Tue., Oct. 11, 2011

Williamson writes on power in the Richmond region
Tue., Jul. 12, 2011

Williamson's book on sprawl reviewed
Mon., Jun. 20, 2011

Williamson comments on Richmond mayor at midterm
Wed., Feb. 16, 2011

UR professor explores the pull of the suburbs
Sun., Oct. 10, 2010

Professor writes on "Suburban Injustice" for Style Weekly
Wed., May. 26, 2010

Professors opine on World Cup 2010 for Christian Science Monitor
Tue., Jun. 29, 2010

Williamson co-authors an article in The Nation on "The Cleveland Model"
Mon., Mar. 1, 2010

Dollars & Sense blog on populism and union lockouts
Thu., Sep. 24, 2009

Professor suggests Richmond's 'powerful' actually powerless
Thu., Aug. 21, 2008

What would King want from us today?

New York Times quotes Williamson on the magic of Man City soccer
Tue., Aug. 4, 2009

Williamson writes on Obama voting machine in Style
Thu., Nov. 6, 2008

Williamson comments on Obama's effort to win the Virginia vote
Fri., Aug. 29, 2008

Opinion: The ground war: Away from the glamour and glitz of the party conventions, a fierce battle for votes is already being (New Statesman)
Fri., Aug. 29, 2008

Ph.D., Harvard University 2004
Political Science
M.A., Union Theological Seminary 1998
A.B., Brown University 1992
History and Religious Studies
Contact Information
(804) 287-6542
(804) 287-6062 (Fax)
Areas of Expertise
Urban Politics and Sprawl
Community Economic Development
City of Richmond Politics
Sports, Justice, and Ethics