Press Releases | Intellectual Diversity

Teach Them How to Think

ACTA launches campaign to reinvigorate the free exchange of ideas on campuses across the country
June 18, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni launched today a national campaign to encourage universities to challenge students and sharpen their minds by exposing them to a wide range of subjects and viewpoints.

As survey after survey has revealed that employers in all fields prize critical thinking and complain about college graduates’ poor analytical skills, ACTA’s campaign aims to reinvigorate the intellectual life on campuses across the country. Surveys of students, at both the national and state levels, also reveal that striking numbers complain about a lack of intellectual diversity.

“Intellectual diversity is at the core of a quality college education,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “By exposing students to a broad range of perspectives and ideas, universities prepare them to think for themselves.”

The cornerstone of the campaign is a new report featuring concrete steps to promote intellectual diversity in and out of the classroom. Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas highlights best practices from 40 institutions that are part of a growing movement to address the issue. It is being sent to the individual board members of nearly 600 institutions responsible for the education of more than six million students, as well as to the governors of every state and the congressional committees on education.

The report highlights exemplary efforts including:

— The University System of Georgia’s self-study of the intellectual climate on its 35 campuses.

— The City University of New York’s grievance policy which addresses “complaints about faculty treatment of students that are not protected by academic freedom.”

Harvard Law School’s Herbert W. Vaughan Lecture Series which brings leading intellectuals and public figures to enhance what students learn in the classroom.

— The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs’s summer reading program which introduced incoming freshmen to great ideas from Plato to Martin Luther King and challenged them to think through their own.

Amherst College president Anthony Marx’s initiative to host debates, symposia and speaker series that deal with complex ideas—”even if they jostle the community.”
ACTA’s report was welcomed by numerous trustees and alumni of major universities.

“Boards are the ultimate guarantors of academic freedom and educational quality and they cannot look the other way when it comes to protecting the free exchange of ideas,” said David Wasinger, trustee of the University of Missouri. “This report offers boards of trustees helpful guidance about concrete steps institutions can take to advance intellectual diversity.”

“This report shows what CUNY and other institutions around the country are doing to protect the diversity most important to education—namely, the diversity of ideas. It should be a must read for all trustees,” said Kathleen M. Pesile, trustee of the City University of New York.

“Alumni donors have an exceptional opportunity to support visiting scholar programs and guest lectures that allow students to hear and engage diverse perspectives,” said Herbert Wiley Vaughan, an alumnus who supports a lecture series at Harvard Law School. “I hope this report will inspire others to do so.”

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent non-profit dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence and accountability. Since its founding in 1995, ACTA has counseled boards, educated the public and published reports about such issues as good governance, historical literacy, core curricula, the free exchange of ideas and accreditation in higher education.


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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