Trustees | Freedom of Expression

Defending Free Expression and Intellectual Diversity: What Trustees Need to Know

  • Date

    August 9, 2023

  • Time

    2:00 PM

  • Location



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.

Join the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) on August 9, 2023, at 2 p.m. EST for a webinar exploring free expression and intellectual diversity in American higher education. Dr. Steven McGuire, ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom, will moderate the event. Panelists will examine 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. Trustees will leave the event with tools and specific action steps to cultivate free expression at their institutions.


Marty Kotis

Marty Kotis, trustee of the University of North Carolina (UNC)–Chapel Hill and former member of the UNC Board of Governors

Marty Kotis serves as a trustee for the University of North Carolina (UNC)–Chapel Hill and is the founder and CEO of Kick Ass Concepts, which develops high-end commercial real-estate and concepts. Mr. Kotis has brought his entrepreneurial energy and activator style to UNC–Chapel Hill’s board, helping to initiate proactive reforms, including spearheading the board’s unanimous decision to establish at the university the School of Civic Life and Leadership. This new school will have its own dean and faculty and an ideologically balanced collection of course offerings to help students explore American civic principles with the freedom of expression, intellectual diversity, and open inquiry that such studies require. Mr. Kotis holds an M.B.A from the University of North Carolina–Greensboro and a B.S. in business from the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Dr. Erec Smith, associate professor of rhetoric and composition at York College of Pennsylvania and co-founder of Free Black Thought

Erec Smith is an associate professor of rhetoric and composition at York College of Pennsylvania and visiting scholar of politics and society at the Cato Institute. He is also one of the founders of Free Black Thought, a website and journal dedicated to spotlighting viewpoint diversity among black intellectuals. Professor Smith became a leader in the academic freedom movement when he argued that a keynote address delivered at a recent conference in his discipline exhibited the kind of performative politics that fails to effect real change and challenged the speaker’s claim that teaching standardized English to students of color is an act of white supremacy. He developed this argument further in A Critique of Anti-racism in Rhetoric and Composition: The Semblance of Empowerment, a book that dissects the over-reliance of anti-racist initiatives on identity politics and victimization and offers an alternative based on self-empowerment. Dr. Smith holds a Ph.D. in English with a concentration in language, literacy, and rhetoric; an M.A. in English from the University of Illinois Chicago; and a B.A. in English from Ursinus College.

Karrin Taylor Robson

Karrin Taylor Robson, founder and president of Arizona Strategies and former member of the Arizona Board of Regents

Karrin Taylor Robson is a founder and president of Arizona Strategies, a premier land use strategy firm, and has worked with national organizations representing major landowners and stakeholders across the country to advance balanced federal environmental law and policy on endangered species acts and wetlands issues. In June 2017, she was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey to the Arizona Board of Regents, which is responsible for the governance of the state’s public universities. She also serves as the chair of the Joe Foss Institute, a board officer of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, a board member of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and invisionAZ, and a member of the Civic Leaders Group for the Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force. As a regent, she helped launch the Regents’ Cup, a debate competition for students at Arizona’s public universities that promotes rigorous, respectful discourse and celebrates free speech and democratic engagement. Ms. Robson holds a J.D. from Arizona State University College of Law and a B.A. in history from Arizona State University.

Abigail Thompson

Dr. Abigail Thompson, distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of California–Davis and co-founder and secretary of the Association for Mathematical Research

Abigail Thompson is a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of California–Davis and a co-founder of the Association for Mathematical Research. In a 2019 op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, entitled “The University’s New Loyalty Oath,” she chastised the University of California system’s new hiring process for privileging some intellectual viewpoints over others, a violation of the university’s stand against McCarthy-era loyalty oaths. Professor Thompson argued that the rubric for assessing applicants’ diversity statements was not ideologically neutral, infringing on academic freedom and threatening intellectual diversity. ACTA honored her with its 2019 Hero of Intellectual Freedom award for this bold challenge. She holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Rutgers University.


Dr. Steven McGuire, ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom

As ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom, Steven McGuire leads our Campus Freedom Initiative.™ He frequently writes and speaks on free speech and academic freedom in the context of contemporary campus issues. Prior to joining ACTA, Dr. McGuire was director of the Matthew J. Ryan Center for the Study of Free Institutions and the Public Good and associate teaching professor in the Augustine and Culture Seminar Program at Villanova University. His academic research focuses on the history of political thought, in particular on the theme of modernity and its critics. He is the co-editor of several academic publications, andhis writing has appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Broad and Liberty, RealClearPolitics, Inside Higher Ed, The Public Discourse, Church Life Journal, Modern Age, Perspectives on Political Science, and the Political Science Reviewer. Dr. McGuire holds a Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America, an M.A. from the University of Saskatchewan, and a B.A. from the University of Lethbridge. He was a Bradley Fellow, an ISI Richard M. Weaver Fellow, and a 2021 Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow.

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


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.

Discover More