Press Releases | Trusteeship

Benno Schmidt to Receive Philip Merrill Award

Prize Recognizes Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education
July 29, 2010

WASHINGTON, DC—Benno Schmidt, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university in the world, will receive the sixth annual Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education.

The prize, sponsored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, is the only one in the nation to honor those who have made an extraordinary contribution to the advancement of liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history.

“For over 30 years, Benno Schmidt has been at the forefront of higher education reform and the advancement of a strong liberal arts education as a scholar, an administrator and now a trustee,” said ACTA president Anne D. Neal. “At CUNY, the efforts he has spearheaded and continues to spearhead have been nothing short of spectacular.”

Under Schmidt’s leadership, CUNY has undergone what is widely seen as an academic renaissance. Before joining the CUNY Board, he led Mayor Rudolf Giuliani’s task force on revitalizing the CUNY system. The Task Force’s recommendations to end open enrollment and raise academic standards have helped the Board and the Chancellor make the CUNY system more competitive on a national level.

Schmidt was president of Yale University from 1986 to 1992, where he was known for his outspoken defense of freedom of expression and liberal education. Before joining Yale, he was the dean of Columbia University Law School where, in 1973, he became, at age 29, one of the youngest tenured professors in Columbia’s history.

Schmidt will accept the Merrill Award at a November 5 gala dinner at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia. Launched in 2005, the award honors the late Philip Merrill, a publisher, entrepreneur, philanthropist, member of several university boards and distinguished public servant who served six presidential administrations. Merrill, who served on ACTA’s founding National Council, focused his philanthropic efforts on improving the quality of higher education.

The past recipients of the Merrill Award are, in chronological order, Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University; Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University; Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emeritus of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor of History and Classics at Yale University; and KC Johnson, Professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.

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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