The College Donor Digest

ACTA and AFSA Hold Alumni Summit on Free Expression

March 17, 2022 | Emily Burden Rees

On February 24 and 25, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) and the Alumni Free Speech Alliance (AFSA) co-hosted the first annual Alumni Summit on Free Expression in Washington, DC.  

The inaugural Alumni Summit on Free Expression brought together the organizers of alumni advocacy groups to share resources, best practices, and potential allies in their efforts to protect free expression, academic freedom, and viewpoint diversity at their alma maters.  

AFSA acts as an umbrella organization that unites these alumni groups and provides them with best practices to effect change at their universities. To date, 12 alumni groups have joined AFSA, hailing from Davidson College, Princeton University, Yale University, Cornell University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Virginia Military Institute, the University of North Carolina, Bucknell University, Wofford University, Lafayette College, the University of Virginia, and Washington & Lee.  

The summit was held at the historic Mayflower Hotel and drew over 70 attendees. Nadine Strossen, past president of the American Civil Liberties Union, delivered opening remarks on a stage framed by portraits of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Drawing on her experience as a professor of law at Harvard University and an expert on constitutional law, Ms. Strossen emphasized how respectfully engaging with—and purposefully encouraging—opposing ideological viewpoints on campus and in classroom discourse is essential to building a robust culture of free speech. As a “bleeding-heart liberal,” she stressed that people from all political perspectives should be invested in advancing open inquiry.  

Samantha Harris, an attorney and expert on campus free speech and due process, spoke on the legal history of the free expression movement. Conference panelists came from free speech allies like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), the American Enterprise Institute, Speech First, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal, and Heterodox Academy. Panelists described how their organizations are defending free expression through litigation, policy, and culture change. William Creeley, FIRE’s legal director, emphasized the importance of promoting a shift in cultural attitudes, saying, “You can’t ban your way to more tolerance.” 

Journalist and scholar Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution delivered the lunchtime keynote address, discussing his recent book, The Constitution of Knowledge: A Defense of Truth. He also shared about his experience as an advocate for same-sex marriage. A robust question-and-answer session followed, touching on issues like compelled speech, culture change, and finding common ground. 

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni looks forward to its continued partnership with the Alumni Free Speech Alliance, helping alumni raise their voices to call for greater free expression and civil exchange at America’s colleges and universities.  


ACTA is hiring a Director of Alumni Advocacy. To apply, please click here


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