Annual ATHENA Conference

The ATHENA Roundtable—Alumni and Trustees for Higher Education Accountability—is an annual meeting of influential college and university trustees, educators, state policymakers, and alumni leaders from around the country who can make a real difference in the direction of higher education.

The conference spotlights critical issues in higher education, including core curricula, historical literacy, assessment, governance, accreditation, academic freedom, affordability, and teacher education. And it focuses on ways to strengthen relationships among trustees, presidents, faculty, alumni, and donors. ACTA has hosted the annual ATHENA Roundtable since 1996.

Philip Merrill Award

The Philip Merrill Award for Outstanding Contributions to Liberal Arts Education honors individuals who advance liberal arts education, core curricula, and the teaching of Western Civilization and American history. The Award is named in honor of Philip Merrill, a distinguished public servant, publisher, businessman, and philanthropist who served as a trustee of Cornell University, the University of Maryland College Park Foundation, the Aspen Institute, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

Throughout his career, Mr. Merrill was an outspoken proponent of academic excellence and an articulate spokesman for the importance of historical literacy in a free society. Mr. Merrill was also a charter member of ACTA’s national council. The Award recognizes outstanding individuals for extraordinary achievement in promoting liberal arts education.

Read the remarks of our 2022 winner, John H. McWhorter, where he posed the question, “Is the problem free speech or modernity?”

I congratulate ACTA on all it is doing to support a liberal education and to reform our educational system.

—General Colin Powell, in a written tribute to Merrill Award Winner Benno Schmidt


A Selection Committee composed of distinguished educational and civic leaders advises on the selection of the awardee. Nominations come from prominent individuals in the higher education community and colleges and university trustees across the country. Candidates for the award include distinguished writers and scholars, college and university professors and administrators, government officials, and public-spirited citizens who have demonstrated a significant dedication to the advancement of liberal arts education.

Members of the Selection Committee are composed of Paula S. Fichtner, professor of history emerita at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York; Alan Charles Kors, emeritus professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania; Tom McMillen, former U.S. Congressman and former regent of the University System of Maryland; Abigail L. Rosenthal (Martin), professor emerita of philosophy at Brooklyn College of CUNY; Sally Satel, Yale lecturer and Brady Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute; and Gordon Wood, emeritus professor of history at Brown University; Anne D. Neal former president of ACTA, President and CEO of National Association for Olmsted Parks; Hank Brown former U.S. Senator, Former U.S. Representative, president emeritus of the University of Colorado, and former president of the University of Northern California.


  • 2022 – John H. McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature, Columbia University
  • 2021 – Gordon S. Wood, award-winning historian, Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus, Brown University
  • 2019 – The Honorable José A. Cabranes, United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • 2018 – The Honorable Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr., president, Purdue University, and former governor of Indiana
  • 2017 – Robert J. Zimmer, president emeritus and chancellor, University of Chicago 
  • 2016 – Niall Ferguson, fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and Milbank Family Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University and former Harvard University & Ayaan Hirsi Ali, research fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and founder of the AHA Foundation
  • 2015 – Hank Brown, president emeritus, University of Colorado, and former U.S. senator and U.S. representative
  • 2014 – Louise Mirrer, president and CEO, New-York Historical Society
  • 2013 – Gary W. Gallagher, John L. Nau III Professor in the History of the American Civil War Emeritus, University of Virginia
  • 2012 – Thomas M. Rollins, founder of The Teaching Company
  • 2011 – David McCullough*, award-winning historian and author
  • 2010 – Benno Schmidt, past president, Yale University, and former chairman, Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY)
  • 2009 – Robert David “KC” Johnson, professor of history, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • 2008 – Donald Kagan*, Sterling Professor Emeritus Classics and History, Yale University
  • 2007 – Gertrude Himmelfarb*, professor emeritus of history, Graduate Center of the City University of New York
  • 2006 – Harvey C. Mansfield, William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, Harvard University
  • 2005 – Robert P. George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, Princeton University

To nominate a candidate for the Philip Merrill Award, please click here.

*Indicates recipient is deceased

Jerry L. Martin Prize

The Jerry L. Martin Prize for Excellence in College Trusteeship is presented to recognize exemplary service and leadership by college and university trustees in the public interest. It is named in honor of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s founding president Jerry L. Martin, who understood the critical role that engaged and informed trustees play in ensuring higher education excellence and accountability.


  • 2021 – Karrin Taylor Robson, Regent, Arizona State University, 2017–2021; founder of the Regents’ Cup Student Debate Competition
  • 2019 – Wallace Hall, Regent, University of Texas System Board of Regents, 2011–2017
  • 2018 – Paul S. Levy, Trustee Emeritus, University of Pennsylvania Board of Trustees, 2002–2018; Overseer, University of Pennsylvania Law School Board of Overseers, 1998–2018
  • 2016 – C. Thomas McMillen, Regent, University System of Maryland Board of Regents, 2007–2015

Like what you see?

Help keep our resources current, free, and independent.


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.

Discover More