ACTA in the News | Civic Literacy

UNC-Chapel Hill recognized for ‘challenging the groupthink and status quo’

Accomplishments recognized in the award include adopting a resolution on institutional neutrality, adopting the Chicago Principles, prohibiting compelled speech and establishing the UNC School of Civic Life and Leadership.
THE CAROLINA JOURNAL   |  November 6, 2023 by Jacob Chace

The UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees was honored by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni last week at a ceremony in Washington D.C. The board was presented the Jerry L. Martin Prize for Excellence in College Trusteeship for its “unwavering commitment to academic excellence, academic integrity, and freedom of thought and inquiry.”

The Jerry L. Martin Prize was established to honor “trustees who have shown exceptional courage and effectiveness in challenging the groupthink and status quo mentality that threatens the future of higher education,” according to ACTA’s website.

Accomplishments of the board referenced during the ceremony included adopting a resolution on institutional neutrality, adopting the Chicago Principles, prohibiting compelled speech and establishing the UNC School of Civic Life and Leadership. The Chicago Principles, created at the University of Chicago in 2014, affirm that free, robust and uninhibited expression is essential to university culture.

UNC-CH Board of Trustees Chair John Preyer, past Chair David Boliek and Member Marty Kotis accepted the prize on behalf of the board. Board of trustees members Ramsey White, Robert Bryan and Perrin Jones were also in attendance as was Sen. Amy Galey.

The board was presented an original newspaper published in 1824 celebrating the contributions to science by UNC’s first chemistry professor, Dr. Denison Olmsted. The same newspaper also included a letter from then General Andrew Jackson to President James Monroe. Quotes from their correspondence were included by ACTA to reflect the virtue and integrity with which the UNC-CH Board of Trustees has served.

“Virtue being the main pillar of a Republican government, unless virtuous men shall be drawn into its administration, the fabric must tremble,” wrote Jackson. “…a truly pure man will be without disguise, verifying, as he passes along, the old adage, that the tree is best known by its fruit.”

“High achievements are meaningless without virtue,” said Michael Poliakoff, president and CEO of ACTA. “We are in the middle of a crisis, not just in higher education, but in our country…The Chapel Hill Trustees walk in honor.”

Poliakoff congratulated the board for being the first full board to be awarded the Jerry L. Martin Prize in its eight-year history.

During her speech, Jenna Robinson, president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, credited the board for improving the culture of UNC through adopting measures that protected free speech. Robinson also highlighted the hiring of the first nine faculty members of the UNC School of Civic Life and Leadership.

“As new trustees, we were told to ‘trust the chancellor,’” said David Boliek, past chair of the UNC-CH Board of Trustees. “But my obligation would always be to the institution and what was best.” Boliek described the culture of UNC when he was a new trustee as not sustainable. “If our university wanted to stay vibrant, the pendulum would have to swing towards the middle.”

In contrast, Boliek described the UNC-CH Board of Trustees as courageous. “It takes courage to challenge the status quo,” he said. “It is no longer enough for trustees to nod in agreement, we must ask why.”

Boliek explained other changes made by the current UNC-CH Board of Trustees. These included returning hiring approval authority back to the board, requiring justification for openings and hires and consolidating the university’s 16 budgets to one uniform, balanced budget.

In his closing remarks, Poliakoff described the UNC-CH Board of Trustees as an example for others across the country. “The clock is ticking in higher education and in this country to turn things around,” he said. “But there is hope, there is leadership.”

The American Council of Trustee and Alumni (ACTA) was founded in 1995. It is an independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting academic excellence, academic freedom, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. ACTA works with donors, trustees and alumni to support liberal arts education and safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, according to its website.

This post appeared on The Carolina Journal on November 3, 2023.


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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