The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) says its mission is to “support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, and safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus.” 

It’s curious, then, that in a letter to Richard Stevens, the chairman of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Trustees, ACTA’s president, Michael B. Poliakoff, would write words to the effect of ‘great job on not giving tenure to your newest hire in the journalism school, Nikole Hannah-Jones,’ an internationally acclaimed, awards-winning journalist whose 1619 Project reframes our collective understanding of slavery and the contributions of Black people to the nation and its historical narrative.

And yet here we are. 

From Poliakoff’s letter to Stevens: 

The letter Poliakoff references is entitled “Don’t Rush to Assume Politics Was Behind UNC Board’s Decision to Deny Tenure to Hannah-Jones.” It rehashes criticisms of The 1619 project from some historians and pontificates further on the role of (politically appointed) trustees whose jobs, as Poliakoff sees it, are “not to sit [there] and rubber stamp everything that comes [their] way.”

As we’ve learned this week, Poliakoff is right in one sense: it’s not just politics behind the board’s decision to deny tenure to Hannah-Jones. It’s politics and the big donor money that goes hand-in-hand with it

A quick Googling suggests that politics and big conservative money are pretty much all that are behind ACTA as an organization, too.

Funders of the group include several right-wing philanthropical and astroturf groups, including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust, The Bradley Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, Castle Rock Foundation, Sarah Scaife Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundationwhich have collectively given more than $10 million to ACTA over the years. 

So, for ACTA, it seems, the free exchange of ideas must be safeguarded, at all costs. It’s just that some ideas are more worthy of free exchange, and in need of safeguarding, than others. 

You can read both of Poliakoff’s letters below. 

ACTA Letter by Jane Porter on Scribd

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