Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

UC–Davis Professor, Abigail Thompson, Recognized as 2020 Hero of Intellectual Freedom by ACTA

February 26, 2020 by ACTA

WASHINGTON, DC – Dr. Abigail Thompson, chair of the mathematics department at the University of California (UC)–Davis, has been recognized by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) as a Hero of Intellectual Freedom. 

Dr. Thompson has articulately challenged the University of California’s (UC) initiative to use diversity statements, in which faculty applicants detail their contributions to diversity and equity, as an initial screen to determine which candidates may progress to further review of their credentials. In addition to the inherent injustice of eliminating candidates whose teaching and scholarship qualify them for faculty appointments, solely on the basis of their diversity statements, Dr. Thompson has convincingly warned that such a pre-screening process could readily become a political litmus test with the potential to limit intellectual freedom. Her courageous journalism reveals that scoring rubrics for the diversity statements, now in use, privilege “a particular political ideology, one based on treating people not as unique individuals but as representatives of their gender and ethnic identities.”

Dr. Thompson’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal on December 19, 2019, “The University’s New Loyalty Oath,” garnered national attention. While commenting on the pitfalls of diversity statement screening, she recalled UC’s principled opposition to McCarthy-era loyalty oaths: “‘No political test shall ever be considered in the appointment and promotion of any faculty member or employee.’ This fundamental principle, forged in one of the most difficult periods the UC system has ever endured, must not be abandoned.”

The UC–Davis faculty senate will soon vote on a resolution to make the use of diversity statements in the hiring process an option rather than mandatory.

“ACTA is proud to honor the campus heroes who pull our colleges and universities back to the unfettered freedom of thought that is the lifeblood of a traditional liberal arts education,” said Dr. Michael Poliakoff, president of ACTA.

Free expression is under assault on campuses across the nation, and university leadership is often reluctant to resist demands for safe spaces, trigger warnings, and censorship of “offensive” views. ACTA launched its “Heroes of Intellectual Freedom” initiative in 2019 to recognize principled individuals who protect and foster a diversity of viewpoints. Last year, ACTA honored five Heroes of Intellectual Freedom: Martha Pollack, president of Cornell University; Christina Paxson, president of Brown University; Melvin Oliver, president of Pitzer College; Samuel Abrams, professor at Sarah Lawrence College; and Luana Maroja, professor at Williams College.

Dr. Thompson will deliver the keynote address at ACTA’s ATHENA Roundtable Conference on November 13, 2020, and will be introduced by University of Chicago President Robert Zimmer.  In 2015, under President Zimmer’s leadership, the University of Chicago promulgated its Principles on Freedom of Expression, the gold standard for an institutional commitment to free speech. Since then, University of Chicago and President Zimmer have continued to be leaders on academic freedom.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2020
MEDIA CONTACT: Connor Murnane
PHONE: (202) 798-5450


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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