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Annual ATHENA Conference

The ATHENA Roundtable—Alumni and Trustees for Higher Education Accountability—is an annual meeting of influential college and university trustees, educators, state policymakers, and alumni leaders from around the country who can make a real difference in the direction of higher education.

The conference spotlights critical issues in higher education, including core curricula, historical literacy, assessment, governance, accreditation, academic freedom, affordability, and teacher education. And it focuses on ways to strengthen relationships among trustees, presidents, faculty, alumni, and donors. ACTA has hosted the annual ATHENA Roundtable since 1996.

Philip Merrill Award

The Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education honors individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western Civilization and American history. The Award is named in honor of Philip Merrill, a distinguished public servant, publisher, businessman, and philanthropist who served as a trustee of Cornell University, the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, the Aspen Institute, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Throughout his career, Mr. Merrill was an outspoken proponent of academic excellence and an articulate spokesman for the importance of historical literacy in a free society. Mr. Merrill was also a charter member of ACTA’s national council. The Award recognizes outstanding individuals for extraordinary achievement in promoting liberal arts education.

Read the remarks of our 2019 winner, the Honorable José A. Cabranes, on the threat to academic freedom on campus today.

I congratulate ACTA on all it is doing to support a liberal education and to reform our educational system.

—General Colin Powell, in a written tribute to Merrill Award Winner Benno Schmidt


A Selection Committee composed of distinguished educational and civic leaders advises on the selection of the awardee. Nominations come from prominent individuals in the higher education community and colleges and university trustees across the country. Candidates for the award include distinguished writers and scholars, college and university professors and administrators, government officials, and public-spirited citizens who have demonstrated a significant dedication to the advancement of liberal arts education.

Members of the Selection Committee are composed of Paula S. Fichtner, professor of history emerita at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York; Donald Kagan, emeritus professor of history at Yale University and winner of the fourth annual Merrill Award; Alan Charles Kors, emeritus professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, Hans Mark, former chancellor and professor of engineering at the University of Texas–Austin; Tom McMillen, former U.S. Congressman and former regent of the University System of Maryland; M. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities; Abigail L. Rosenthal (Martin), professor emerita of philosophy at Brooklyn College of CUNY; Sally Satel, Yale lecturer and Brady Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; and Gordon Wood, emeritus professor of history at Brown University.


  • 2020 – Gordon Wood, award-winning historian, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus, Brown University
  • 2019 – José A. Cabranes, U.S. Circuit Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • 2018 – Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., President, Purdue University and former Governor of Indiana
  • 2017 – Robert J. Zimmer, President, University of Chicago 
  • 2016 – Niall Ferguson, senior fellow, Stanford’s Hoover Institution and former Harvard University history professor & Ayaan Hirsi Ali, human-rights advocate and former member of the Dutch Parliament
  • 2015 – Hank Brown, former U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative; President Emeritus, University of Colorado and University of Northern Colorado
  • 2014 – Louise Mirrer, president and CEO of the New-York Historical Society
  • 2013 – Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War, University of Virginia
  • 2012 – Thomas M. Rollins, founder of The Teaching Company
  • 2011 – David McCullough, award-winning historian and author
  • 2010 – Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University and former chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY)
  • 2009 – Robert David “KC” Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • 2008 – Donald Kagan, Sterling Professor Emeritus of History and Classics at Yale University
  • 2007 – Gertrude Himmelfarb, late professor emeritus of history at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • 2006 – Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government at Harvard University
  • 2005 – Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University

To nominate a candidate for the Philip Merrill Award, please click here.

Jerry L. Martin Prize

The Jerry L. Martin Prize for Excellence in College Trusteeship is presented to recognize exemplary service and leadership by college and university trustees in the public interest. It is named in honor of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s founding president Jerry L. Martin, who understood the critical role that engaged and informed trustees play in ensuring higher education excellence and accountability.

Read the remarks of the 2019 recipient, former University of Texas System regent Wallace Hall, on the need for boards of trustees to be transparent and accountable.


  • 2019 – Wallace Hall, Regent, University of Texas System Board of Regents, 2011–2017
  • 2018 – Paul S. Levy, Trustee Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, 2002–2018; Overseer, University of Pennsylvania Law School Board of Overseers, 1998–2018
  • 2016 – C. Thomas McMillen, Regent, University System of Maryland Board of Regents, 2007–2015

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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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