Press Releases | General Education

John McWhorter to be Honored as ACTA’s 2022 Philip Merrill Award Winner

Columbia University Professor Fights Fearlessly for Academic Freedom and Diversity of Thought
September 8, 2022

Washington, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) announced today that Columbia University Professor John H. McWhorter is the recipient of the 2022 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education. ACTA bestows this honor annually on individuals who have made an extraordinary contribution to liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western Civilization and American history.

“Professor McWhorter’s role as a scholar, teacher, and social critic makes him one of the most important voices in contemporary American life,” said ACTA President Michael Poliakoff. His incisive writings have powerfully increased the public’s understanding of language, race relations, and liberal arts education. The high importance he places on intellectual openness and the free exchange of ideas is key to reviving liberal arts education and repairing our fractured public discourse. ACTA is privileged to honor him as its 17th Merrill Award winner.”

“The true value of what we call education—which in Latin means ‘to lead out of’—is revealing that any issue worth extended consideration is complex, that there is no easy ‘Well, all I know is . . . ’ conclusion logically possible,” said Professor McWhorter. “The person who gets a higher educational degree while supposing that any urgent societal issue—including ones about race—comes down to good people battling bad people has not been reached by education in any sense that deserves the name.”

Dr. McWhorter will accept the award and deliver remarks at ACTA’s ATHENA Gala on October 21, 2022, in Washington, DC. Tribute speakers will include Glenn Loury, Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences at Brown University and a 2022 winner of the Bradley Prize; Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and bestselling author; and Roosevelt Montás, senior lecturer in American Studies and English at Columbia University and author of Rescuing Socrates: How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why They Matter for a New Generation.

Professor McWhorter teaches linguistics, American Studies, English, and comparative literature at Columbia University, having previously served as associate professor of linguistics at the University of California–Berkeley. He has written numerous books and articles that boldly and unblinkingly take on the most sensitive topics of race and politics in America. In his most recent book, Woke Racism: How a New Religion Has Betrayed Black America, he argues that today’s progressive ideology of antiracism, though well-meaning, infantilizes black Americans and damages black communities.

Professor McWhorter offers solutions for the flaws in our higher education system. While recommending that American higher education should incorporate vocational training for students who do not desire to take the four-year college path, he also advocates for preserving high academic standards and creating intellectually rich courses that inspire curiosity, not cynicism. He has done much to shed light on the complex societal challenges that we face today and to illuminate a path forward, and we look forward to honoring him with the prestigious Philip Merrill Award.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin
PHONE: (202) 798-5425

Dr. McWhorter will be giving his acceptance speech, preceded by tributes from Glenn Loury, Steven Pinker, and Roosevelt Montás, at ACTA’s annual Merill Award Gala. Register here >>


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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