ACTA Launches Campaign to Recognize Free Exchange of Ideas

Ashley Thorne

Today our sister organization, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), released a 52-page report as part of its “national campaign to promote the free exchange of ideas and to praise the growing number of institutions around the country which are stepping up to do so.” This campaign has received recognition in today’s issue of USA Today, and the report is being sent to more than 9,000 trustees around the country. 

ACTA’s report defines intellectual diversity, explains why trustees should promote it, and outlines “best practices” for doing so. Among its best practices are recommendations such as, “Incorporate intellectual diversity into institutional statements and policies,” and “Encourage the president to take a stand for intellectual diversity.” In the best practices segment, the report gives examples from particular steps colleges and universities have recently taken to improve intellectual pluralism on campus. For example, Old Dominion University is commended for adopting a statement affirming the university’s responsibility to “remain an open marketplace of ideas where free expression is exercised and where diverse views are expressed and debate of those ideas is encouraged.” ACTA praises about 40 colleges and universities in the report.

By extolling the few colleges that have acted admirably regarding the free exchange of ideas, the report indirectly points to the attacks on intellectual diversity in higher education. ACTA uses a pleasant sort of reverse psychology, like a child who chooses to smile sweetly instead of reacting when provoked by a sibling. The smile—as opposed to retaliation—only frustrates the sibling and makes his scowls look weaker. Indeed, one of ACTA’s chief opponents has made some weak accusations, saying that the intellectual diversity movement is ideological in nature, and that the assertion that the university is politicized is nothing but manufactured controversy. That opponent is the coalition called (ironically) Free Exchange on Campus. NAS has recently written about Freex, as we called the group for shorthand, which is funded by the Open Society Institute, an organization founded and chaired by George Soros.

ACTA effectively negates Freex’ empty claim; the report explains that “Properly understood, intellectual diversity is not about managing how many “conservatives” or “liberals” populate a faculty; nor is it about exposing students to every idea or unfounded theory that has ever been produced.” Instead, “it means the varied scholarly inquiry that offers students exposure to different areas of knowledge.” And enough proof has been produced by NAS, ACTA, FIRE, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), and others, to document many real cases of campus hostility to the free exchange of ideas. In fact, the USA Today article concludes with a call to readers to leave comments telling whether they “ever felt that you were not free to express your own views on a controversial issue at school or at work.” Many readers did.

NAS applauds ACTA for its campaign and for praising the colleges who promote intellectual pluralism. We join with ACTA in hoping that “many more follow in their footsteps.”

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