ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.
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."
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.
ACTA is quick to intervene when colleges and universities jeopardize the academic freedom of faculty or students. We correspond with over 23,000 trustees to educate and inform them about the pressing issues on their campuses. Our research has been used extensively by governing boards of small and large, public and private institutions of higher education. ACTA upholds First Amendment rights on campus without regard to belief or position, including the controversial and unpopular. We are a nonpartisan organization that protects free speech across the political spectrum.
We work closely with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) to intervene when free speech is threatened. In our What Will They Learn?© survey of over 1,100 colleges’ core curricula, we include 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 we regularly participate in conferences of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), advocating greater faculty responsibility for enforcement of the professional standards that ensure intellectual diversity and campus-wide academic freedom.
Guided by ACTA research and advocacy, a growing number of colleges and universities have adopted the Chicago Principles, which is a declaration of intent to protect academic freedom and free speech. While the Chicago Principles set a gold standard for valuing free speech, they are only a statement. ACTA works directly with higher education leaders to update their bylaws and ensure that university policies create a campus culture of free expression.
ACTA provides trustees with the tools they need to understand academic freedom and to take positive actions to protect and foster it. ACTA routinely holds conferences and events on academic freedom for higher education leaders, including our annual ATHENA Roundtable. At these events, trustees, policymakers, and higher education experts examine relevant case studies and highlight best practices that protect academic freedom. ACTA has published several guides on this issue. Guarding the Freedom to Speak, Freedom to Hear and Building a Culture of Free Expression on the American College Campus educate trustees on today’s most prominent threats to academic freedom and provides tried-and-tested methods that have enabled colleges and universities to protect free speech on their campuses.
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.
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. The ability to prepare for and serve in the military also constitutes an academic freedom. When ROTC programs were under attack particularly during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ACTA fought for their preservation. ACTA communicated with the governing boards of Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Tufts, Brown, and Stanford and achieved real results, as each of these institutions took significant steps toward the full restoration of ROTC on campus.