Press Releases | Philanthropy

ACTA Announces Major Expansion, New Leader of Fund for Academic Renewal

December 6, 2016 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, D.C.The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA)—an organization well-known for its research and advocacy in support of academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education—today announced plans for a major expansion of its Fund for Academic Renewal, a program to help donors make transformative gifts to higher education. The expanded Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR) will give donors a more powerful voice in determining the direction that U.S. colleges and universities take in the future.

U.S. colleges and universities received more than $172 billion in private gifts between 2011 and 2015. Many gifts go directly to annual funds, over which donors have no control whatsoever. Even major donations are sometimes repurposed in ways that fail to respect the donor’s original vision.

The Fund for Academic Renewal will assist donors in designing gifts—both large and small—that can be tailored to their individual interests and financial circumstances. The organization’s expanded academic, legal, and philanthropic services can help individuals to craft intelligent gifts or pool their resources with other like-minded donors to maximize their impact.

In addition to launching these expanded operations, ACTA also announced that Dr. Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, who most recently served as ACTA’s vice president of development, will become the Fund’s executive director. Before joining ACTA, Merrill served on the faculty of St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., known for its “Great Books” curriculum, as well as of the College of William & Mary.

Merrill, along with FAR’s team of advisors, will work with donors at every stage of philanthropy, from conception to implementation. In addition to creating funds for special projects at specified colleges and universities, FAR will assist donors in building programs that expand the study of American history and government, civic education, economic literacy, and classic works of literature and philosophy. FAR will advise donors who are planning major gifts and would benefit from the organization’s expertise, campus contacts, and resources.

“Writing a check to a college or university’s annual fund merely preserves the status quo and encourages more of the same weaknesses that erode confidence in American higher education. Our intention is to provide donors with an alternative: an opportunity to carefully and thoughtfully craft gifts that will make a real difference,” Dr. Merrill said. “The Fund for Academic Renewal will work with donors who want change, who value academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas, and who believe that content and quality cannot be compromised.”

Supported by a grant from the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation in Bethesda, MD, FAR’s services will be available at no cost to donors. FAR will share staff and office space with ACTA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization which for more than two decades has advocated for quality, accountability, and excellence in higher education through research, publications, and outreach to trustees and policymakers.

“If our children and grandchildren are to enjoy the same rich educational experience we enjoyed and to be able to compete in a dynamic global economy, American higher education needs to remain the best in the world,” said Dr. Michael B. Poliakoff, president of ACTA. “FAR presents alumni, parents, philanthropists, and concerned citizens with a vehicle and expertise to create gifts to higher education that spur transformative change in the culture, conduct, and quality of our colleges and universities.”

More information about FAR is available at


The Fund for Academic Renewal, a program of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, is a go-to resource for higher education donors who want to make a difference. It is dedicated to helping conscientious donors make thoughtful gifts that have an enduring impact on 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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