Keynote Remarks from the Alumni Summits on Free Expression
September 28, 2023 by ACTA and in partnership with the Alumni Free Speech Alliance Download PDF
For too long, alumni voices have been relegated to cheerleading and boosting, with America’s colleges and universities welcoming their dollars but not their ideas. Alumni are more than walking checkbooks. They are the guardians of the values that are the lifeblood of higher education: open inquiry, robust debate, and intellectual diversity. With fresh assaults on the free exchange of ideas making headlines every week, alumni are needed more than ever to defend free speech on campus and, like America’s Founders, to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”
Over the past two years, hundreds of alumni have proactively organized into independent groups—several under the banner of the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA)—with the purpose of forming a bulwark against the illiberalism afflicting higher education. Recognizing the power of this national alumni movement to drive positive change on campus, ACTA, in partnership, with AFSA, hosted two Alumni Summits on Free Expression to motivate and equip alumni in their reform efforts. This special publication, made possible by the generous support of the Stanton Foundation, features keynote speeches from both the inaugural 2022 summit and the 2023 summit. With contributions from the Honorable Janice Rogers Brown, Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Jonathan Rauch, past ACLU president Nadine Strossen, and civil liberties attorney Samantha Harris, this resource serves as a useful promotional tool for alumni free speech advocates to raise awareness and recruit fellow alumni to the movement. Download a PDF of the publication here.
Introduction by Dr. Michael B. Poliakoff | President, American Council of Trustees and Alumni
ACTA, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, deeply cherishes its partnership with AFSA, the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, because AFSA defends the most vibrant engine of higher education progress and improvement: the free exchange of ideas. Alumni are the guardians of values, whose wise counsel and deep experience are essential for the course correction that America’s colleges and universities so desperately need. AFSA is an idea for which thousands of alumni throughout the nation have yearned, and we are honored to work with its members and its president, Charles (“Chuck”) Davis.
When ACTA was founded in 1995, we actually had a different name, the National Alumni Forum, so strongly did ACTA’s leadership believe that alumni are the key to maintaining high academic standards, fiscal responsibility, and, crucially, campus freedom of speech. When AFSA’s founders, Stuart Taylor and Edward Yingling, unfurled its banner in the Wall Street Journal two years ago, they identified alumni as “the only university stakeholders with the numbers and clout to lead the defense of free speech, academic freedom and viewpoint diversity in campus environments.” They ignited the conscience of the nation. Trustees, as fiduciaries who have the power to set policy and exercise oversight, need the strong voices of alumni to help them focus on the values of generations past that are the soul and lifeblood of the institutions they govern.
What has brought together the vibrant alumni groups that comprise AFSA is love for their schools, a real and pure love that is willing to speak out and admonish when the alma mater has strayed from the principles that shaped their minds and hearts. At the core of that, of course, is the freedom to question, challenge, discuss, and debate, which we must vouchsafe for future generations. At times, the situation on some of our campuses would strain credulity, even in comic fiction: deplatforming, disinvitations, secret online tools for students who feel “offended” to report their peers and faculty. But, together, we can and will reinvigorate the intellectual freedom we knew when we were college students. (Perhaps, sadly, I am revealing my age!)
ACTA looks forward to sharing all its tools and resources with AFSA. We have recently assisted colleges and universities in sponsoring campus debates and orientation programs that focus on freedom of speech. We have advised on the creation of new campus centers devoted to free inquiry and intellectual diversity. We regularly write to boards whose trustees need to be reminded of their duty to protect campus freedom of speech. AFSA’s work is timely and courageous, and it is our privilege to be partners with you.
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.