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National Leaders Support a New Blueprint for Higher Education Governance

Citing Unprecedented Postsecondary Challenges, a Team of Distinguished Higher Ed Policy-Makers Charts a Vision for the Future of America's Colleges and Universities
August 19, 2014

GfK Study Finds that 89% of the Public Believes College is Becoming Unaffordable for the Middle Class and Call on Trustees to Lead Reform

WASHINGTON, DC—A diverse group of national leaders is issuing today a blueprint for higher education governance. Their report is designed to help America’s colleges and universities shed 20th century thinking and successfully meet 21st century challenges.

Governance for a New Era, also known as the Schmidt Report in honor of Benno Schmidt, the chairman of the project, is the product of a summit of distinguished higher education leaders that focused on finding innovative solutions to the many issues confronting our colleges and universities. 

Signatories to the statement include former U.S. Senator and past President of the University of Colorado Hank Brown; President of Arizona State University Michael Crow; former Florida Lt. Governor and Chancellor of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Frank Brogan; former Congressman and University of Maryland Regent Tom McMillen; and former Governor of Michigan and President of the Business Roundtable John Engler. A full list of the 22 signatories is listed below. 

“This report is coming forward at a crucial time for higher education,” said Schmidt, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York. “The public’s confidence in higher education is slipping, and slipping badly, and we who are part of this vital American institution must do something about it. That is why I am gratified to be joined by 21 of our nation’s most respected leaders in higher ed to chart a path for the future.”   

ACTA convened the group of policy-makers earlier this year at the City University of New York. The report’s key findings include:

  • Shared governance cannot and must not be an excuse for board inaction, especially now, when America’s preeminent role in higher education is threatened.
  • Leadership of higher education is out of balance. Too many trustees have seen their role narrowly defined as boosters, cheerleaders, and donors.
  • Trustees are fiduciaries for their institutions, but have a primary obligation to the taxpayers and students.
  • Trustees and administrators have, for the most part, done a good job of protecting the academic freedom of faculty, but they have often failed to guard the academic freedom of students.
  • Trustees cannot and should not expect participants in the multibillion-dollar industry of intercollegiate athletics to ensure academics remain a college’s primary mission.

“Trustees must require high standards of themselves and ensure accountability to the families and taxpayers who support the colleges and universities that they govern. America’s success as a global leader rides on the quality and accessibility of our nation’s higher education institutions,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “Given these challenging times, it is clear that trustees—working with faculty and presidents—must press for thoughtful responses to ever-increasing tuition costs, outsized administrative expenditures, and erosion of academic freedom. We salute this report for helping to map the course to a better future.”

ACTA is distributing the report to its network of over 15,000 trustees at over 1,200 colleges and universities, along with a recent survey conducted by GfK which finds that the public believes trustees must take a more active part in overseeing colleges and universities. The survey finds that a majority of Americans believe taxpayers and families are not getting value for their investment; that tenure adds cost to higher education and compromises quality; and that political correctness and intolerance are undermining the free exchange of ideas.

  • 72% of Americans say students do not get their money’s worth in today’s higher education system.
  • Following a graduation season fraught with controversy, 74% believe trustees should not allow institutions to yield to pressure to disinvite controversial speakers.
  • 89% believe college is becoming financially unaffordable for the middle class.
  • 91% believe boards of trustees should take the lead in reforming higher education.

ACTA is the nation’s leading independent nonprofit dedicated to ensuring trustees are active and engaged in finding common sense solutions on campus.

Daniel Burnett                        
Director of Communications                                                            

About ACTA: The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. For further information, visit

Governance for a New Era

Benno Schmidt
Chairman, Board of Trustees
The City University of New York

Frank T. Brogan
Chancellor, Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education
Former Lieutenant Governor, Florida

Hank Brown
President Emeritus, University of Colorado
Former U.S. Senator, Colorado

José A. Cabranes
Former Trustee of Yale University, Columbia University, and Colgate University

Jonathan R. Cole
John Mitchell Mason Professor of the University
and Provost and Dean of the Faculties, Emeritus
Columbia University

Dean Colson
Trustee and Former Board Chair
State University System of Florida Board of Governors

Michael M. Crow
President, Arizona State University

Richard DeMillo
Director, Center for 21st Century Universities,
Georgia Institute of Technology

John Engler
President, Business Roundtable
Former Governor, Michigan

Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor Emeritus, The City University of New York

Peter Hans
Immediate Past Chair
University of North Carolina Board of Governors

John Hillen
Trustee, Hampden-Sydney College

Robert David Johnson
Professor of History, Brooklyn College and
The City University of New York Graduate Center

Donald Kagan
Sterling Professor Emeritus of Classics & History
Yale University

Phyllis Krutsch
University of Wisconsin System
Board of Regents Emerita

Clara M. Lovett
President Emerita, Northern Arizona University

C. Thomas McMillen
University of Maryland System Regent
Former U.S. Representative, Maryland

Carl B. Menges
Former Trustee, Hamilton College

Velma Montoya
University of California Regent Emerita

Ben Novak
Former Trustee, Pennsylvania State University

Arthur J. Rothkopf
President Emeritus, Lafayette College

Stephen F. Smith
Trustee Emeritus, Dartmouth College


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni commissioned GfK Custom Research to gauge the public’s perception of higher education and the role of trustees.

  • 62% of Americans believe higher education leaders are doing a fair or poor job to ensure higher education is worth the time and money. 44% believe that higher education leaders are doing a fair to poor job to ensure that students graduate with the skills and knowledge they need for citizenship and career.
  • Six in 10 say colleges and universities “are increasingly becoming places of intolerance and political correctness.” The public is split 49% to 50% on whether higher education leaders—including boards of trustees—are doing a good job to ensure students are exposed to a multiplicity of perspectives from across the political spectrum.
  • 81% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that all students should “take basic classes in core subjects such as writing, literature, math, science, economics, U.S. history, and foreign language.” 
  • Fully 71% of respondents believe the tenure system “contributes significantly to higher costs and lower education quality in American colleges and universities.”
  • Nearly three out of four respondents believe that boards should not allow their institutions to surrender to pressure to withdraw speaking invitations to controversial speakers.
  • 89% of respondents believe college is becoming out of reach for the middle class. Nearly three quarters do not believe that students get their money’s worth.

And whom do the American people want to take the lead in reforming higher education? Boards of trustees. An astounding 91% said it is the board’s responsibility to “take the lead in reforming higher education to lower costs and improve quality.”

The poll of 1,000 adults was performed June 6-8 with a margin of error of +/- 3%.


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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