Celebrating 20 Years of Academic Renewal

The Martin Center thanks its readers after two decades of higher-ed sanity.

Since 2003, the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal has been a voice for excellence in higher education. We are dedicated to promoting knowledge over credentials, restoring genuine liberal learning, and ensuring that public investment in higher education provides value to students, taxpayers, and society. And now, we’re celebrating 20 years of renewal in higher education—in North Carolina and beyond.

Of course, if you’ve been following our work for a long time, you know that the history is more complicated than that. The Martin Center started out as a tiny outpost at the John Locke Foundation (with just one employee) in the mid-1990s. We became an independent nonprofit organization, the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, in 2003 and changed our name to the Martin Center in 2016. (The full history is available here.)

Since the beginning, our goals have remained the same: to renew the promise of higher ed and to ensure that universities provide value.Since the beginning, however, our goals have remained the same: to renew the promise of higher education and ensure that colleges and universities provide value to students and citizens.

And we’ve started to make headway, especially in our home state of North Carolina. Over the years, our work has paid off with major policy victories, improving higher education to benefit students and taxpayers across the country.

Some of the Martin Center’s most notable accomplishments include:

  • Inspiring new university policies on institutional neutrality, student fees, performance funding, transparency, and partisan activities;
  • Informing discussions in Washington, D.C., on student loans and grants by testifying before Congress;
  • Informing legislation on free speech, students’ religious freedom, board governance, and viewpoint diversity—in North Carolina and beyond;
  • Writing model legislation ending political litmus tests that has been used across the country;
  • Ending discrimination against men in North Carolina universities by filing complaints with the Office for Civil Rights;
  • Holding schools of education accountable for teaching the science of literacy to North Carolina’s future teachers;
  • Exposing wasteful and politicized university spending to inform North Carolina’s budget priorities, including strategic cuts to higher education;
  • Helping to make the UNC System the best in the country for student speech protections.

I’m most proud of our work on free speech at North Carolina universities. When I started working on the issue of free speech, every school in the UNC System had at least one unconstitutional speech restriction. None of them had adopted commitments to free speech. And none of them had even heard the phrase “institutional neutrality.” Now, North Carolina is the national leader in campus free speech. In 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a free-speech bill. Most of our institutions now get a “green light” from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression. And the UNC Board of Governors has prohibited compelled speech. North Carolina is a model for the nation, and I’m proud of our role in making that happen.

I’m grateful to everyone who has been part of the Martin Center’s success. We have a phenomenal board and dedicated staff members who work every day to study and report on critical issues in higher education and to recommend policies that can create change. We have loyal donors and activists who care deeply about students and about the knowledge that universities discover, preserve, and transmit to the next generation. And we have allies in North Carolina and across the country who have come alongside us to create change that makes a difference for students and citizens.

We’re excited to celebrate this important occasion. We look forward to reaching more milestones together in the future. Thank you for being part of our journey.

Jenna A. Robinson is the president of the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.