American Council of Trustees and Alumni
|Motto||Empowering trustees and alumni on behalf of academic freedom and excellence.|
|Headquarters||1730 M Street NW, S-600|
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) is an American non-profit organization whose stated mission is to "support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives a philosophically rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price." ACTA does so primarily by calling on trustees to take on a more assertive governing role. It is based in Washington, D.C. and its current president is Michael Poliakoff.
ACTA was founded in 1995 as the National Alumni Forum by former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman Lynne V. Cheney, former Colorado governor Richard Lamm, then U.S. Senator and future University of Colorado at Boulder president Hank Brown, sociologist David Riesman, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow, U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman, and former ACTA president Anne D. Neal. With the exception of Neal, all those involved in ACTA's founding have since retired. In 1996, the organization changed its name to the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Jerry L. Martin, a former philosophy professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was president from the organization's founding until 2003, when Neal became president. In 2016, Michael Poliakoff, formerly Vice President of Policy at ACTA, took over as the organization's president.
ACTA is a non-profit organization and is funded by grants from foundations and gifts from individuals. Foundations that have donated to ACTA include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation and the Lumina Foundation for Education. Members of ACTA's board of directors include Edwin D. Williamson, M.D. (chairman), Robert T. Lewit, Jane Fraser, David Bruce Smith, Jody Wolfe, Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, John W. Altman, Heidi Ganahl, Paul S. Levy, and Michael Poliakoff.
ACTA's stated goals are to promote academic freedom, academic excellence, and accountability in higher education. ACTA promotes a substantial core curriculum, exposing college students to a broad range of ideas, for an active role for governing boards, and for greater transparency and accountability in higher education. According to ACTA, a university education should prepare its graduates to become "informed citizens, effective workers, and lifelong learners." 
ACTA argues that students should be free to express their views on campus. In this regard, the organization is closely aligned with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the two organizations have collaborated on cases. ACTA opposes campus speech codes. ACTA has spoken out against the dis-invitation of speakers and called on universities to use guest speakers to add to the mix of ideas.
An ACTA study in 2004 found that 49 percent of students at selective colleges complained of professors frequently injecting political comments into their courses even if they had nothing to do with the subject, while 46 percent of students reported that professors used their classrooms to promote their own political views.
Free to Teach, Free to Learn
In April 2013, ACTA published a guide for trustees titled Free to Teach, Free to Learn: Understanding and Maintaining Academic Freedom in Higher Education. The guide reports on the decline of academic freedom and intellectual diversity on college campuses. Contributors to the guide include former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers, U.S. Circuit Judge José A. Cabranes, CUNY board chairman and former Yale professor Benno Schmidt, and Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate, co-founders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education.
General education requirements
ACTA advocates for stronger general education requirements. According to ACTA, a core curriculum should include, at a minimum, courses in composition, literature, American history, foreign language, mathematics, science, and economics.
In 2003, ACTA published Degraded Currency: The Problem of Grade Inflation, a report dealing with grade inflation in American colleges and universities. The report stated that a larger percentage of students now get "A's" than ever before.
ACTA has also spoken out about the "beer and spectacle" climate at many universities, and the civic and economic illiteracy of college graduates. In 2000, ACTA published a report called Losing America's Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century. The organization surveyed 556 randomly selected seniors at leading colleges and universities, including Harvard University, Princeton University, and Brown University. Students were asked 34 high-school level questions designed to test their historical literacy. One student answered all the questions correctly, and the average score was 53%.  None of the 55 liberal arts colleges and universities surveyed included American history as a graduation requirement. The report also found that while students could easily identify pop culture icons, 65% of those surveyed failed the 34 question multiple-choice test on American history and government.  The report led to the adoption of a joint unanimous resolution of Congress expressing “the importance and value of United States history” and calling on boards of trustees, college administrators and state officials to strengthen American history requirements.
In 2012, ACTA published a new survey that followed up on the original Losing America's Memory survey, published in 2000. The 2012 study found that only a small percentage of college graduates could identify James Madison as the father of the Constitution or George Washington as the victorious general at Yorktown. Only 17 percent could identify the source of the phrase "government of the people, by the people and for the people."
In 2007, ACTA published a reported entitled The Vanishing Shakespeare. It found that 55 of the 70 leading colleges and universities surveyed did not require their English majors to take a course in Shakespeare.
ACTA has published reports evaluating the higher education systems in California, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, South Carolina, Maine, Idaho, Florida, and Mississippi.
What Will They Learn?
Since 2009, ACTA has published an annual report entitled What Will They Learn? The report, which includes data from over 1,100 four-year institutions, assigns a letter grade to each university based on how many of the following seven core subjects are required: composition, literature, foreign language, American history, economics, mathematics and science. ACTA concludes that most of the country's leading universities do not have rigorous general education requirements.
In the 2009-2010 report, 42 institutions received a “D” or an “F” for requiring two or fewer subjects. Only 5 institutions received an “A” for requiring six subjects and none required all seven. In the 2011-2012 edition, 19 schools received an "A" grade for requiring at least six of the subjects the study evaluated. In the 2012-2013 edition, 21 schools received an "A" grade. The 2013-2014 edition of the report awarded 22 "A" grades, while the 2014-2015 edition awarded 23 "A" grades." The 2015-2016 edition of the report awarded 24 "A" grades. The 2016-2017 edition assigned 25 "A" grades.
The report has been endorsed by Mel Elfin, founder of the U.S. News & World Report College Rankings. The New York Times higher education blogger Stanley Fish agreed that universities ought to have a strong core curriculum, but disagreed with some of the subjects ACTA includes in the core.
Phillip Merrill Award
Each year, ACTA gives out the Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education. This award “honors individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western civilization and American history." Award winners have included Robert David “KC” Johnson, professor of history at Brooklyn College; Benno Schmidt, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of City University of New York; historian David McCullough; Tom Rollins, founder of the Teaching Company; and Robert Zimmer, President of the University of Chicago.
Jerry L. Martin Prize
ACTA gives out the Jerry L. Martin Prize for Excellence in College Trusteeship on an occasional basis. Named after ACTA's first president, the prize honors trustees who have contributed to liberal education and best practices at their institutions.
To address the problems it says exist in higher education, ACTA calls on university governing boards to exert oversight in order to hold administrations and professors accountable.  ACTA argues for a much more active approach to trusteeship than the Association of Governing Boards.  ACTA president Anne D. Neal cited the Penn State sex abuse scandal as an example of university trustees failing to exert adequate oversight, writing, "The institutional reckoning must begin and end with the governing board. It is responsible for the actions of university leaders, and its members owe taxpayers and students accountability and transparency." In 2012, ACTA presented the Penn State Board of Trustees with a recommendation for changes in the board's structure and operations.
On the financial front, ACTA calls on governing boards to keep costs under control—in particular administrative spending—and not to reflexively increase tuition. ACTA has also spoken out on the need to raise graduation rates as a cost-saving measure.
In December 2012, ACTA, representing a group of trustees and alumni from across the nation, sought an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education into an accreditation agency's decision to put the University of Virginia on warning for a failed attempt to fire president Teresa A. Sullivan. ACTA president Anne Neal wrote, "We believe there is substantial reason to believe that the accreditor has inappropriately become involved in a power struggle between the president, faculty, and the board of trustees and urge you to investigate." On December 11, 2012, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on College sent a warning notice to the University of Virginia regarding governance issues. Neal wrote, "It appears that SACS' real issue is not the absence of a board policy, but the substance of the board's policy." In an interview, Neal said she wanted the Department of Education to put the accrediting agency on notice that its proper role is to ensure educational quality "and not to intrude on the governance processes of our colleges and universities." The Department of Education determined that the Southern Association of Colleges had not violated federal laws. In March 2013, Neal challenged the ruling, writing, "SACS’ action falls outside its legitimate authority and amounts to the wielding of federal power in clear violation of the principles of federalism and the U.S. Constitution."
In January 2019, ACTA launched the website HowCollegesSpendMoney.com, which takes data from the National Center for Education Statistics and makes it transparent for a lay audience. The product is aimed towards trustees and alumni to show them how colleges' spending on administration has increased relative to spending on instruction over time.
ACTA has been a vocal critic of the current system of federal educational accreditation, arguing that the system as it is structured today pays no attention to the quality of the education that students receive (learning outcomes) and hampers the transfer of credits between institutions. In 2007, ACTA published a study on accreditation reform entitled Why Accreditation Doesn't Work and What Policy Makers Can Do About It. The study, a revised and updated version of a 2002 study entitled Can College Accreditation Live up to Its Promise? concluded that "accreditation does nothing to ensure educational quality" and that "the system of college accreditation has done more to raise costs than to improve or even maintain educational quality, and that it gives students, parents, and public decision-makers almost no useful information about institutions of higher education."
In June 2013, ACTA president Anne Neal provided testimony at a hearing conducted by the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Training. The hearing was titled "Keeping College Within Reach: Program Quality through Accreditation." According to See Thru Ed, "Neal provided devastating testimony... before Congress that points to the continuing failure of college accreditors to support true incentives that would enhance academic quality and student achievement."
In September 2013, Hank Brown, who serves on ACTA's Accreditation Reform Initiative, published a paper titled "Protecting Students and Taxpayers: The Federal Government's Failed Regulatory Approach and Steps for Reform." Brown wrote that the nation's accreditation system is a "public policy and regulatory failure by almost any measure." U.S News & World Reports wrote that "Brown argues that lawmakers should consider reforms ranging from expanding the number of accrediting agencies to separating an institution's eligibility for federal funding from the accreditation process." Publication of the paper included a cosponsored panel with the American Enterprise Institute.
In 2013, ACTA reviewed data from 1,070 fully accredited public and private colleges, finding that 40% of the included schools graduated less than half of their students in six years. More than 13% of the schools had graduation rates of 33 percent or less.
- "American Council of Trustees and Alumni Philip Merrill Award". Washingtonian. November 10, 2011. Retrieved February 13, 2012.
- "The Weak Distribution Requirements of American Colleges". Washington Monthly. August 16, 2010. Archived from the original on 2012-05-11. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- Fish, Stanley (24 August 2009). "What Should Colleges Teach?". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 1 March 2010. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
- Perez-Pena, Richard (2013-03-15). "University of Virginia's Crisis Reflects Wider Conflict". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
- Emma, Caitlin (May 12, 2016). "Morning Education". Politico. Retrieved 7 June 2016.
- Jones, Barbara (2009). Protecting Intellectual Freedom in Your Academic Library. American Library Association. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8389-3580-4. Retrieved 2012-03-06.
- "American Council of Trustees and Alumni". Center for the American University at the Manhattan Institute. Retrieved March 5, 2012.
- "Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal releases paper on Robertson settlement". Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Archived from the original on July 13, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- "Lumina Foundation for Education announces fourth-quarter grants". Lumina Foundation for Education. January 13, 2009. Archived from the original on June 13, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- "Edwin D. Williamson". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "Robert T. Lewit, M.D., Chairman | American Council of Trustees and Alumni". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "Jane Fraser". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "AHI's Carl Menges Joins the Board of ACTA". Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization. February 24, 2012. Archived from the original on 2015-01-15. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- "Jody Wolfe | American Council of Trustees and Alumni". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "Stephen Joel Trachtenberg". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "John Altman". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "Heidi Ganahl". www.goacta.org. Retrieved 2019-11-05.
- "Board of Directors". American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Archived from the original on 2016-12-03. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
- "ACTA Gives College Highest Possible Academic Ranking". Thomas Aquinas College. September 1, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- "Trustees Take a Pass". Inside Higher Ed. December 15, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- "Guest post: 'Academically Adrift,' indeed". The Washington Post. January 19, 2011. Retrieved February 10, 2012.
- "The 3-Minute Interview: Anne Neal". Washington Examiner. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- Kissel, Adam (18 December 2009). "Will the University of Minnesota Board of Regents Need to Intervene to Protect Freedom of Conscience?". The Torch. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- "Speakers See Threats to the Concept of Shared Governance". The Chronicle of Higher Education. June 13, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Mitchell, Charles (23 March 2009). "Colleges can handle controversy without squelching free speech". The Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- Wilson, Robin (9 March 2007). "Anne Neal vs. Roger Bowen: The Post-Mortem". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- "ACTA Advocates for ROTC Recognition". Harvard Crimson. March 1, 2011. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Williams, Walter (2012-09-19). "Academic Dishonesty". Town Hall. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- "Opinion: What Happened to Academic Freedom?". Wall Street Journal. 2013-04-26. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "What Happened to Academic Freedom?". American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "Testimony of Dr. Jerry L. Martin to the Committee on Education and the Workforce Subcommittee on 21st Century Competitiveness". Committee on Education and the Workforce. June 22, 2004. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Winik, Lyric Wallwork (20 July 2008). "Are College Coaches Overpaid?". Parade. Archived from the original on August 23, 2010. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- Veale, Scott (July 2, 2000). "Word for Word/Pop Quiz; History 101: Snoop Doggy Roosevelt". The New York Times. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Rawson, Alex (May 16, 2001). "Condemned to repeat it". Princeton University Alumni Weekly. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Maurice, Black; O’Connor, Erin (8 March 2009). "Economic Illiterates". Newsday.
- Marklein, Mary Beth (11 February 2009). "A timely reminder that 'we cannot escape history'". USA Today. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- Granhke, Lon (29 May 2000). "Knowledge of history thing of the past: report". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
- "Whereas basic knowledge of United States history is essential to full and informed participation in civic life and to the larger vibrancy of the American experiment in self-government". S. Con. Res. 129, Concurrent Resolution by the Second Session of the 106th Congress. 10 July 2000.
- Ambrose, Jay (2012-12-31). "Jay Ambrose: History at the movies". Orange County Register. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- Marklein, Mary Beth (19 April 2007). "Shakespeare is not to be at most colleges". USA Today. Retrieved 2 March 2010.
- Minnasian, Levon (2012-06-13). "California higher education problems stem from resource allocation, report says". The Daily Californian. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- Kissel, Adam (March 18, 2010). "40 Percent of Minnesota College Students Say Certain Topics or Viewpoints Are 'Off Limits'". Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Thorne, Ashley (October 30, 2009). "Illinois Fails ACTA Report Card". National Association of Scholars. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Shelly, Barbara (April 19, 2011). "Forum: Students need options outside college". Athens Banner-Herald. Archived from the original on September 17, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Bauerlein, Mark (March 18, 2008). "ACTA Report on Higher Learning in Georgia". National Review Online. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Robinson, Jenna Ashley (February 24, 2011). "How Does Your University Measure Up?". The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Hinkle, A. Barton (February 10, 2012). "Hinkle: Are Virginia colleges ripping us off?". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Archived from the original on 2013-02-04. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Iverson Long, Brad (January 31, 2012). "Report: Virginia College Tuition Outpaces Incomes". FOX 5. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- "Prepared in Mind and Resources? A Report on Public Higher Education in South Carolina". South Carolina Policy Institute. November 6, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- "SPN News May/June 2011 Newsletter Updates". State Policy Network. June 11, 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-11-22. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- Iverson Long, Brad (January 20, 2011). "Study gives Idaho higher ed F's for education, cost, intellectual diversity". Idaho Reporter. Archived from the original on 2011-02-09. Retrieved March 9, 2012.
- "Governor Scott: Report highlights importance of holding the line on tuition". Flgov.com. June 7, 2013. Retrieved 21 June 2013.
- "House Passes College Campus Free Speech Bill". northsidesun.com. March 12, 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
- "USAO Joins U.S. Elite 19 for 'A-grade' Curriculum". GTR Newspapers. January 18, 2012. Archived from the original on March 10, 2012. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Parker, Kathleen (September 30, 2011). "Our unprepared graduates". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Associated Press (19 August 2009). "Harvard, Princeton top U.S. News college rankings again". USA Today. Retrieved 9 March 2010.
- Williams, Walter E. (August 31, 2009). "What Will They Learn for your $50,000?". Investor's Business Daily. Archived from the original on January 26, 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2010.
- McGurn, William (November 1, 2011). "What's Your Kid Getting From College?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Czupor, Z.J. (October 11, 2012). "National study ranks Colorado Christian in top 2% of colleges". Denver Post. Archived from the original on 15 February 2013. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- Kuczynski-Brown, Alex (2012-10-10). "History Literacy Failing Among American Students, Study Faults Colleges Lack Of Core Subject Requirements". Huffington Post. Retrieved 11 January 2013.
- "Report gives GWU 'A' grade for core subjects". Gaston Gazette. 2013-10-30. Retrieved 30 October 2013.
- "Study: 'What Will They Learn' In College? Probably Not Much". Region's Business. October 15, 2014. Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 4 March 2015.
- "What WIll They Learn 2015-16?". American Council of Trustees and Alumni. October 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- "Opinion Journal: Dumbing Down Colleges". Wall Street Journal. October 6, 2015. Retrieved 21 December 2015.
- ""A" List". American Council of Trustees and Alumni. Archived from the original on 14 December 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- American Council of Trustees and Alumni (19 August 2009). "What the College Rankings Won't Tell You" (Press release). Archived from the original on 9 April 2010. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- City University of New York (Fall 2009). "Faculty Honors" (Press release). Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- "Statement from Chancellor Matthew Goldstein on the Philip Merrill Award to CUNY Chairman Benno Schmidt". City University of New York. August 2, 2010. Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. Retrieved March 12, 2012.
- "Tom Rollins to Receive 2012 Philip Merrill Prize". American Council of Trustees and Alumni. 2012-10-21. Retrieved 10 January 2013.
- editorial (11 August 2003). "In Trustees We Trust: It's time higher education got some effective oversight". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
- Hebel, Sara (12 May 2000). "Encouraging Board Members to Be Active, but Not Activist". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- Neal, Anne D. (23 July 2009). "The Potty-Trained Trustee". Inside Higher Ed. Archived from the original on 31 January 2010. Retrieved 8 March 2010.
- Neal, Anne (November 30, 2011). "Where Were Penn State's Trustees?". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved April 9, 2012.
- Thompson, Charles (2012-11-16). "Penn State trustees say they'll review another list of suggested changes over Sandusky scandal". The Patriot-News. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
- de Vise, Daniel (31 January 2012). "Report faults Va. colleges for spiraling tuition". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 31, 2012.
- Keller, Lanny (18 December 2009). "High standards can produce savings, quality". The Advocate. Retrieved 5 March 2010.
- "Group files US DOE complaint on U.Va. 'warning'". Associated Press. 2012-12-31. Retrieved 12 January 2013.[permanent dead link]
- Lewis, Greg (March 10, 2013). "ACTA appeals Department of Education's decision". Cavalier Daily. Retrieved 1 April 2013.
- "Can College Accreditation Live up to Its Promise?" (PDF).
- "Why Accreditation Doesn't Work and What Policy Makers Can Do About It" (PDF).
- Friis, Jan (13 June 2013). "U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES HOLDS HEARING ON ACCREDITATION". Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Archived from the original on 14 August 2013. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Windham, Jim (October 8, 2013). "ACTA Calls Out the Accreditation Industry". See Thru Ed. Archived from the original on 2013-11-04. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- Bidwell, Allie (2013-09-30). "Report: Congress Should Reform College Accreditation to Save Students, Taxpayers". US News & World Reports. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- "A higher bar for higher ed: Reforming accreditation for the 21st century". American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved 4 November 2013.
- "Higher ed needs more accountability". Washington Examiner. 2013-03-23. Retrieved 1 April 2013.