The Forum | General Education

ACTA and the Fund for Academic Renewal Host Oases of Excellence Conference

June 13, 2017

How do you promote open debate and inquiry in politically polarizing times and amid growing hostility to free expression? How can faculty promote liberal arts excellence and rigor in the face of academic drift and vanishing requirements?

Last week, faculty leaders from 17 states and the District of Columbia gathered in Washington, DC to grapple with these questions at the John Roderick Wilson Oases of Excellence Faculty Conference. More than 40 higher education leaders eagerly came to the event, some at the helm of existing college and university programs, and others hoping to launch new ones. Most represent programs recognized by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) with the distinction of “Oases of Excellence,” a network of noteworthy academic centers and institutes rooted in the liberal arts tradition that now numbers at 62.

These scholars came united in a commitment to the best of liberal education, emphasizing the rigorous exploration of topics such as U.S. history and the American founding, economics, classic works of literature, and philosophy.

The conference grew from the vision of the late John Roderick Wilson, a distinguished higher education philanthropist. ACTA and the Fund for Academic Renewal (FAR) hosted the event to provide Oases of Excellence leaders a forum to discuss strategies for building and sustaining successful campus programs. In cultivating these new initiatives, professors navigate the complexity of developing original programming, marketing to students and community members, and cultivating relationships with donors and foundations.

Conference attendees heard from experts who have shown how to spearhead thriving programs, including Stephen H. Balch, founding director of Texas Tech’s Institute for the Study of Western Civilization; Robert P. George, director of Princeton’s James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions; Jenna Silber Storey, managing director of Furman’s Tocqueville Program; and Robert Paquette, charter fellow of the Alexander Hamilton Institute.

The day featured spirited question-and-answer sessions, in which attendees discussed the day-to-day issues involved in operating a program and the broader difficulties of leadership in a contentious campus climate. Throughout the session, institute leaders had the opportunity for informal networking and discussions with peers and leaders from ACTA and FAR, organizations that work year-round to advance academic excellence in higher education, bringing more than two decades of expertise to the cause.

FAR helps donors make targeted gifts to the Oases of Excellence and other campus programs that align with their visions and values. It is the go-to resource for both donors and faculty committed to ensuring that American higher education remains the best in the world. To support the Oases of Excellence, please visit or contact


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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