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 ideals of academic freedom and free speech are at the core of the American academic tradition. Teachers must be free to teach, students must be free to learn, and freedom in research is essential to the advancement of truth.

    Today the greatest threat to academic freedom comes from within the academy. Students report feeling intimidated by professors and fellow students if they question politically correct ideas. In some cases, students have been subject to official sanctions for speaking their minds in class. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education finds that hundreds of colleges have adopted speech codes or sensitivity requirements that threaten free speech and academic freedom. Professors have been removed and punished for violating the norms of political correctness.

    "What universities can and must resist are deliberate, overt attempts to impose orthodoxy and suppress dissent. ... In recent years, the threat of orthodoxy has come primarily from within rather than from outside the university."

    — Derek Bok, former president of Harvard

    ACTA believes this internal threat to academic freedom must be challenged. At the practical level, we must find ways to defend those professors, as well as students, whose academic freedom is threatened by those who disagree with their views. ACTA’s publications argue for a return to our intellectual moorings, the time-tested understanding of intellectual freedom. No fanaticism, no ideology, no political passion has the right to suppress free minds in the pursuit of truth, which is the lifeblood of the academy.  ACTA is working to engage alumni and donors, trustees, and state leaders in this fight.

    WHAT WE ARE DOING

    Defending Freedom of Speech on Campus

    ACTA is quick to intervene when colleges and universities jeopardize the academic freedom of faculty or students. Our correspondence with governing boards and press statements include the University of Wyoming, Hamilton College, Butler University, the University of Connecticut, St. Cloud University, the University of Texas, Columbia University, Ohio University, and many others. ACTA upholds First Amendment rights on campus without regard to belief or position, including the controversial and unpopular.

    ACTA took a leading role in persuading CUNY to reverse the blatantly political denial of tenure to the distinguished historian Robert “KC” Johnson. We work closely with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to intervene when free speech is threatened. ACTA’s report on California, Best Laid Plans, incorporates FIRE’s findings on campus speech codes. From its earliest days, ACTA has spoken out to protect the freedom of student newspapers to write and publish without harassment. And ACTA regularly participates in conferences of the American Association of University Professors, advocating greater faculty responsibility for enforcement of the professional standards that ensure intellectual diversity and campus-wide academic freedom.

    Informing Trustees

    ACTA provides trustees with the tools they need to understand academic freedom and to take positive actions to protect and foster it. In April 2013, ACTA held a conference on academic freedom for trustees at the historic Union League in New York City. With the guidance of Benno Schmidt, chairman of the CUNY Board of Trustees, law professors Donald Downs of the University of Wisconsin, Philip Hamburger of Columbia University, and Neil Hamilton of the University of St. Thomas, trustees and policymakers examined relevant case studies, gaining the skills and knowledge to protect intellectual diversity and academic freedom on their own campuses. ACTA published an extensive companion guide to the conference, Free to Teach, Free to Learn, with detailed commentary by  contributors including former president of Harvard University Larry Summers, co-founders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, United State Circuit Court Judge José Cabranes, and the several legal scholars who led sessions at the academic freedom conference.

    ACTA's 2005 report Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, raises awareness of the principles and longstanding American tradition of academic freedom and the assaults it now faces. ACTA’s 2009 publication, Protecting the Free Exchange of Ideas: How Trustees Can Advance Intellectual Diversity on Campus, gives governing boards ideas drawn from current best practices of how to foster and advance academic freedom. ACTA has counseled trustees to be vigilant in protecting students from residential life programs that include intrusive and inappropriate interrogation of their sexual, religious, and political values. ACTA has also provided trustees with technical advice on the recent Supreme Court decision CLS v. Martinez that could affect the prerogatives of campus student associations.  

    Informing the Public and Policymakers

    ACTA carefully surveys students on issues of academic freedom and intellectual diversity using highly reliable polling organizations. These studies, on both a national and state level, show an alarmingly high percentage of students who believe they must agree with their professors to get a good grade and who find the classroom a place of political indoctrination. Results have been sent to trustees, state legislators, and members of the higher education committees of the U.S. Congress. ACTA staff have given testimony in a number of states, including Pennsylvania, Missouri, Montana, Georgia, and South Dakota, often on pending legislative initiatives.

    Restoring ROTC and Student Opportunities

    For over a decade, ACTA has called for the restoration of ROTC to college and university campuses, arguing that not only does ROTC serve the nation, but it also enriches the curriculum and discourse of higher education. A campus chapter of ROTC means students will have exposure to the varied careers in national defense and security that military service has to offer. ACTA has also raised awareness of the concurrent disappearance of teaching and research in military and diplomatic history, especially at elite universities, restricting the intellectual horizons of both students and faculty. ACTA has communicated with the governing boards of Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Tufts, Brown and Stanford and achieved real results, as each of these institutions has taken significant steps toward the full restoration of ROTC on campus.

    Learn how ACTA provides opportunities and information for alumni & donors, trustees, policymakers, and students & parents regarding higher education reform.

    Our Initiatives