Press Releases | Historical Literacy

No James Madison at James Madison U.

ACTA Decries Neglect of American History
July 3, 1997

WASHINGTON, DC—As the Nation celebrates Independence Day, the National Alumni Forum reports that the Nation’s heritage has suffered a blow at one college. Over the protest of two of its trustees, James Madison University, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, has decided not to require American history.

“Unless things change, students will be able to graduate from James Madison University without knowing who James Madison was or why he is important,” said Dr. Jerry Martin, president of the National Alumni Forum.

Martin pointed out that the school’s decision is part of a disturbing trend by numerous colleges and universities to no longer require students to study history—American or otherwise. A survey funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities showed that in 1988 it was possible to graduate from 78 percent of the Nation’s colleges and universities without ever taking a course in the history of Western civilization and from 38 percent without taking a course in history at all.

It’s no wonder then, said Martin, that one study done for the Hearst Corporation found that 45 percent of those polled could not distinguish Karl Marx’s thoughts from ideas in the U.S. Constitution, or that another survey done by the Gallup Organization found that over 40 percent of college seniors could not identify when the Civil War occurred.

Martin commended the two James Madison University trustees, Mark Obenshain and Charles H. Cunningham, who supported the requirement. “These trustees are doing their job, which is to ensure their students are fully prepared for active participation in our democracy. We hope other board members will see the light before the next meeting.”

The matter was tabled until the October 17 board meeting.

The National Alumni Forum is a nonprofit organization of alumni and trustees committed to academic freedom and excellence.


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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