Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

ACTA Releases Study Outlining the Dangerous Decline of Academic Freedom on Campus

Trustees are called to protect these values
April 29, 2013

Washington, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni today released “Free to Teach, Free to Learn,” a guide for trustees, on the dangerous decline of academic freedom and intellectual diversity on college campuses.

The report, with a foreword by Benno Schmidt, chairman of the CUNY board of trustees and former president of Yale, comes at a time when duly-invited graduation speakers are made unwelcome, campus speech codes threaten the free exchange of ideas, and academic freedom controversies are emerging on a number of campuses.

The guide features key documents that shaped the modern concept of academic freedom, coupled with commentary from a wide and bipartisan roster of distinguished educators, attorneys, and policymakers. Contributors include former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers; co-founders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate; University of Wisconsin professor Donald Downs; University of St. Thomas professor Neil Hamilton; and U.S. Circuit Judge José Cabranes. Excerpts from the commentary and key observations are attached.

“Academic freedom is the hallmark of American colleges and universities, and that freedom must be defended,” said Anne D. Neal, ACTA president. “Yet the very groups that have been charged with protecting and advancing academic freedom have become part of the problem and are undermining public trust in our colleges and universities. Regrettably, too many have forgotten that academic freedom is both a right and a responsibility. ACTA’s guidebook is designed to empower trustees to protect academic freedom at a time when too many—including members of the professoriate—undermine it.”

The report outlines action items for trustees to protect the free exchange of ideas on college campuses including:

  • Implementing a program of professional education in ethics for faculty and members of the academic community
  • Elimination of speech codes
  • Ensuring students are exposed to a wide and balanced range of ideas and speakers
  • Implementing a solid system of post-tenure review
  • Ensuring that gifts to the college are free of conditions that restrict academic freedom
  • Protecting the academic freedom of non-tenured and adjunct professors

The report will be sent to more than 14,000 trustees across the United States, along with an action plan.

The report also lists hundreds of institutions with a “Red Light Rating” from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education for harmfully-restrictive speech codes, and features case studies that illuminate common campus academic freedom issues such as: controversial speakers, student religious associations, research integrity, tenure, and politicization of the classroom.

“When professors seek to use the university to advance their ideological agenda, administrators and trustees must respond vigorously,” wrote Summers.

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America’s colleges and universities. For further information, visit

Daniel Burnett
Press Secretary,


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.

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