ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

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. The 2016 program—on October 28—will focus on higher education, academic freedom, and civic responsibility.

The event will begin in the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee Hearing Room. Join distinguished educators and policy leaders to discuss threats to intellectual diversity and free speech on campus, and the key role that the study of Western Civilization and our nation's history has in restoring the integrity of American higher education. A panel on Educating for Citizenship will feature KC Johnson, professor of history, Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center; Wilfred McClay, professor of history, University of Oklahoma; and  Eva Brann, tutor and former dean, St. John's College. A colloquy entitled Free to Teach, Free to Learn will feature Jonathan Haidt, professor of ethics, NYU-Stern School of Business; Ruth Wisse, professor of Yiddish and comparative literature, Harvard University; Gail Heriot, professor of law, University of San Deigo School of Law; and Solveig Gold from the students' Open Campus Coalition at Princeton University.

Evening festivities will take place at the Folger Shakespeare Library, beginning with the opportunity to view a special exhibit: Will & Jane—Shakespeare, Austen, and the Cult of Celebrity, followed by a cocktail reception. The evening will culminate with a gala dinner and presentation of the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education to Professor Niall Ferguson and author and human rights advocate Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who together have been eloquent and effective proponents of Western Civilization and academic freedom. The award is named in honor of Philip Merrill, who tirelessly supported and affirmed the importance of academic excellence and a common core of learning in a free society.



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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 is intended to recognize outstanding individuals for extraordinary achievement in promoting liberal arts education.


A Selection Committee composed of distinguished educational and civic leaders advises on the selection of the nominee. Nominations are solicited through letters to prominent individuals and college and university trustees around the country. Those eligible 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. In 2017, the Selection Committee is 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, professor of history at Yale University and winner of the fourth Merrill Award; Alan Charles Kors, professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, Hans Mark, former chancellor and professor of engineering at the University of Texas–Austin; M. Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, Martin Peretz, editor emeritus, The New Republic; Thomas Rollins, founder of The Teaching Company; Abigail Thernstrom, adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute; and Gordon Wood, professor of history at Brown University.


  • 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, acclaimed historian and author
  • 2010 – Benno Schmidt, 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, 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 an eligible person for the Philip Merrill Award, please click here.


Reclaiming Excellence

January 2016 |  

Remarks by The Honorable Hank Brown—former U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and president emeritus of the University of Colorado—upon accepting the 2015 Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding...

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View All Speeches by Merrill Award Recipients >>


Historians Run Amok

National Review
April 04, 2017 |  

The eminent historian Niall Ferguson has devastatingly skewered his (and my) field of study in a talk for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, subsequently published as “The Decline and Fall...

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Larry Summers on some of higher education’s “bad ideas”

Washington Post
November 11, 2011 |  

Last week, I conducted a public interview with Lawrence Summers. Summers served as Treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 and as president of Harvard from 2001 to 2006, and director of President...

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