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Alumni Organize to Preserve Free Speech and Free Thought at Colleges and Universities

ACTA is Created as a National Organization of College and University Alumni Focused on Promoting Academic Freedom and Excellence at Their Alma Maters
March 17, 1995

WASHINGTON, DC—Lynne V. Cheney, former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, today announced the creation of the National Alumni Forum, a nationwide organization of college and university alumni focused on promoting academic freedom and excellence at their alma maters.

In announcing the Forum’s creation, Mrs. Cheney said, “The main threat to academic freedom today is from political intolerance on campus. Alumni and trustees must make sure our colleges and universities remain forums for open debate. Alumni want to support their colleagues, but they are often shut out of the discussion.”

“The most urgent issue is academic freedom,” Dr. Jerry L. Martin, the Forum’s founding president said. “over 300 colleges have speech codes that threaten academic freedom. Over 100 cases of political intimidation have been reported. And campus newspapers have been removed or destroyed at over 70 colleges. Alumni will come to the aid of professors and administrators resisting his trend.”

The Forum includes alumni from colleges across the country, a national council of distinguished Americans, and advisory committees of trustees, college Presidents, and noted academics who will seek to promote academic freedom in higher education. It will organize alumni support for academic freedom and challenge practices and policies that threaten intellectual freedom and undermine academic standards. Alumni giving—at $2.9 billion annually and growing—is the largest private source of financial support for higher education. The Forum will help alumni direct their giving to programs that will raise educational standards at their alma maters.

Joining Mrs. Cheney at the press conference were Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT); Richard Baehr, a trustee of Kenyon College in Gamier, Ohio, Michael Macielag, a trustee of Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland, and Dr. Jerry L. Martin, president of the National Alumni Forum. Mrs. Cheney serves as the Forum’s National Chairman, with Richard D. Lamm, former Democratic Governor of Colorado serving as Vice-Chairman. Senator Lieberman is a member of the Forum’s National Council.

Senator Lieberman observed, “It is time to take a step back and to seriously scrutinize policies that threaten academic freedom and the vitality of higher education. Alumni of all universities should participate in the necessary effort to keep serious scholarship and the pursuit of truth at the top of our nation’s priorities. If nothing else, let us bear this responsibility as parents, who cherish our children’s future and education.”

Initially, Forum activities will center around providing a national voice that directly challenges threats to academic freedom wherever they occur in higher education. The Forum will publish a newsletter and create an electronic network to provide timely information sharing among alumni members and alumni activists around the country. It will also provide guidance that helps alumni target programs and activities worthy of their financial support.

Dr. Martin added, “Higher education is in deep trouble. Tuition is increasing at twice the inflation rate. Political correctness is present on too many campuses. And public confidence in these institutions has dropped from 61 percent to 25 percent over the past 25 years. Alumni are expected to send money—and lots of it—to higher education, but not to ask any questions. That time is now ending.”

In addition to Mrs. Cheney, former Governor Lamm, Senator Lieberman, Mr. Baehr and Mr. Macielag, other distinguished Americans working with the Forum include: Senator Hank Brown (R-CO); James H. Higgins, former CEO of Mellon Bank; Philip Merrill, Publisher of The Washingtonian; Martin Peretz, Editor-in-Chief, The New Republic; Herman B. Wells, Chancellor of the University, Indiana University; Edwin J. Delattre, former President, St. John’s College, Annapolis; Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Emory University; Donald Kagan, Yale University; Gertrude Himmelfarb, City University of New York; and James Q. Wilson, University of California at Los Angeles.

Additional excerpts from the press conference are below.

Former Colorado Governor Richard D. Lamm, in a statement read at the news conference: “Until now, concerned alumni have tried to help their alma maters through general contributions and through individual efforts aimed at giving for specific purposes such as a Western Civilization program or a professional program or building project. Some have formed local groups to address issues of academic freedom. Unfortunately, many more have given up, heartbroken at the deterioration of their beloved colleges and universities. That is why we are forming the National Alumni Forum.”

Richard A. Baehr, trustee of Kenyon College: “I am very pleased that the National Alumni Forum has been created. I believe it can help alumni at particular colleges learn how alumni have been effective at other institutions and it will provide a resource to help alumni develop strategies when their own institutions are under siege.”

Michael Macielag, trustee of Washington College: “Parents are willing to pay for good education but they deserve to know that colleges are doing everything they can to offer the best possible education at a fair price. For any organization, nothing is as valuable as feedback from the people who are paying the bills, and yet the consumer’s voice is rarely heard in discussions about higher education funding. In this respect, the National Alumni Forum is a consumer movement, encouraging colleges and universities to listen to their customers.”

Dr. Jerry L. Martin, National Alumni Forum president: “After campus political pressure, Yale failed to implement a western civilization program funded by a $20-million gift from alumnus Lee Bass, who recently demanded his money back. It is sad to see politics play any role in deciding what educational opportunities will be available to students.”


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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