The university’s purpose is inquiry—seeking the truth in conversation with others. But the raucous disruption of U.S. Fifth Circuit Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan at Stanford Law School, the shout-down of University of Florida President Ben Sasse, and the physical assault of Riley Gaines at San Francisco State University are only a few recent examples of the rising pressure on students, faculty, and even administrators to conform to political and social orthodoxies on campus. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, more than three in four liberal students (76%) think that shouting down a speaker is acceptable, while 56% of moderate students and 44% of conservative students say the same. These serious threats to free inquiry strike at the very heart of the university’s reason for existence.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni hosted a webinar on August 9, 2023, exploring free expression and intellectual diversity in American higher education. Dr. Steven McGuire, ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom, moderated the event. Panelists included Marty Kotis, trustee of the University of North Carolina (UNC)–Chapel Hill and former member of the UNC Board of Governors; Dr. Erec Smith, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at York College of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Free Black Thought; Karrin Taylor Robson, founder and president of Arizona Strategies and former member of the Arizona Board of Regents; and Dr. Abigail Thompson, distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of California–Davis and co-founder and secretary of the Association for Mathematical Research. They examined the necessity of free expression and intellectual diversity, threats to these ideals in today’s activist climate, and ways to protect and promote them on campus.

This webinar is part of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s Institute for Effective Governance®.

Adding defensive confidence to a college student’s toolbox
The need for students to learn how to challenge opposing ideas with intelligence and respect
There should be a perfect storm on every college campus
The problem with diversity statements in hiring and the political conformity they create
University stakeholders must promote free expression from all levels
The role that trustees can play in protecting free speech at universities
The value of the UNC public discourse program and program
Ways that university board members can decide to make an impact
The threat that accreditors pose to free speech at universities

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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