The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent, nonprofit organization committed to promoting academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. Founded in 1995, ACTA works with alumni, trustees, and education leaders across the country 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 education at an affordable price.
This report highlights our many accomplishments in the past year and shines a spotlight on new initiatives in 2023 to protect academic freedom, promote academic excellence, and advance accountability.
For the past two decades, ACTA has shone a light on the dire threats to free expression plaguing college campuses, including disinvitations, the proliferation of bias response teams, alarming levels of self-censorship, and intense pressure to conform to certain political orthodoxies. We have established our reputation as a leading organization fighting to protect free thought on campus, and we have built relationships and allies within the walls of colleges and universities. Now, ACTA is contributing to transformative reforms that have the power to reach beyond the campus community, building what Albert Einstein called a “spirit of tolerance in the entire population.” Through the support of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation, ACTA launched the Campus Freedom Initiative™ in 2022. We also incorporated our college debate program into freshman orientations for the very first time. And we amplified the voices of some of the nation’s most thoughtful academics to spark unifying and open conversations about diversity on campus.
While censorship and cancel culture have drawn national attention to the troublesome state of our colleges and universities, and rightly so, there is another fundamental challenge facing higher education today: the poor academic return students receive on the large investment they make in a college degree. These students often arrive on campus unprepared by their secondary education for serious study, and they are graduating from college still unprepared for professional life. What is more, amidst continued social and political division, colleges and universities are failing to equip students with a strong foundation for reasoned discussion and deliberation, rooted in a deep knowledge of our country’s history and governing institutions. ACTA is empowering students, families, and K-12 educators to use their market power to demand higher standards from colleges and universities, and we are supporting campus programs that are committed to the study of the liberal arts.
In 2022, ACTA continued to work with college governing boards to help institutions reform themselves from within, while also assisting policymakers to bring outside pressure on universities to rein in runaway spending and improve student outcomes. We ramped up our board services program to provide retreats and consultations for trustees at major universities across the country. We provided testimony before Congress and met with individual lawmakers to expose the problems of censorship on campus and craft legislation to protect intellectual freedom. And we distributed high-quality resources to help trustees and lawmakers navigate complex issues of cost, quality, and campus freedom.
We are changing campus culture from the bottom up and from the top down. And we will not rest until we have changed the norms and expectations.
I thank our supporters whose generosity makes it possible for us to extend our reach and accomplish more and more. I am proud to present to all of you this report of our work in 2022.
–Michael B. Poliakoff