Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

Purdue University President Is Honored with ACTA’s Merrill Award

October 16, 2018 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) announced that Purdue University President Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. was honored with its most prestigious award, recognizing his extraordinary leadership in promoting academic freedom, academic excellence, and cost-effective, efficient administration. 

On October 12, 2018, ACTA presented President Daniels with the 2018 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education. The selection of President Daniels, recommended by a committee of distinguished educators and civic leaders from around the country, specifically recognizes his instrumental role in

  • promoting uncompromising freedom of expression on campus;
  • maintaining rigorous academic standards;
  • creating the Purdue Polytechnic High School—an innovative STEM preparatory charter school in Indianapolis;
  • and managing a tuition freeze for all undergraduates at Purdue University for seven consecutive years, from the 2012-13 academic year through at least 2019-20.

Daniels is the 12th president of Purdue University and the former governor of Indiana. In recognition of his leadership in both offices, he was named among the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders by Fortune magazine in 2015.

As a result of President Daniels’s vision and guidance, tuition at Purdue has been held in check at a time when elsewhere, national higher education costs and student debt loads have escalated out of control. Through at least 2020, students at Purdue will pay less in tuition and fees than in 2012, and five graduating classes will have earned their Purdue degrees without ever experiencing a tuition increase.

President Daniels was also highly influential in building a culture of freedom of expression at Purdue, making it the first public university to adopt the Chicago Principles, forging a lasting partnership on this issue between students and University leaders, and becoming the first public university to earn the top rating for the protection of free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff observed, “Mitch Daniels has demonstrated how, with strong leadership and vision, a great university can reach new heights of excellence in teaching and learning, safeguard freedom of expression, expand opportunities for disadvantaged students, and still succeed in keeping college affordable. He inspires colleges and universities to see that both excellence and affordability can be within reach.”

The Merrill Award was presented to President Daniels on October 12 at an evening gala following ACTA’s annual ATHENA Roundtable conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, DC. The award reflects and honors the legacy of the late Philip Merrill, a distinguished public servant, publisher, businessman, and philanthropist who served as a trustee of numerous universities and cultural institutions. Throughout his career, Mr. Merrill was a passionate proponent of academic excellence and an articulate spokesman for the importance of liberal education in a free society.

Paying tribute at the Gala to President Daniels were his good friends Erskine Bowles, the former President of the University of North Carolina, along with former Florida Governor Governor Jeb Bush; author and political scientist Charles Murray; and former ACLU President Nadine Strossen.

Previous Merrill Award recipients are:

2017—Robert Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago

2016—Niall Ferguson, senior fellow, Hoover Institution at Stanford University, & Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human rights advocate and former member of the Dutch Parliament

2015—Hank Brown, former U.S. senator and president emeritus of the University of Colorado and University of Northern Colorado

2014—Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society

2013—Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War at the University of Virginia

2012—Thomas M. Rollins, founder of The Teaching Company

2011—David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author

2010—Benno Schmidt, past president of Yale University and past chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY)

2009—Robert “KC” Johnson, distinguished scholar of 20th century history and professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center

2008—Donald Kagan, author of the magisterial four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War and Sterling Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at Yale University

2007—Gertrude Himmelfarb, professor emerita of history at the CUNY Graduate Center

2006—Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government at Harvard University

2005—Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.


CONTACT: Doug Sprei,

ACTA is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. We receive no government funding and are supported through the generosity of individuals and foundations. For more information, visit


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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