Benno Schmidt: ‘A Champion of Reform’

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni has presented Benno Schmidt, chairperson of CUNY’s Board of Trustees, with the Philip Merrill Award for outstanding contributions to liberal arts education.

Among those offering testimonials at the November presentation were Chancellor Matthew Goldstein; former Secretary of State Colin Powell; First Amendment expert Floyd Abrams; and Ruth Friendly, whose husband, legendary CBS News producer Fred Friendly, once ran a weekly seminar at Columbia University, with Schmidt fielding constitutional questions.Schmidt-Dinner

“At a time when the liberal arts are under siege and many educators are paralyzed by the face of a changing world, Benno Schmidt has emerged a champion for the arts and letters and a forward-thinking innovator committed to delivering quality instruction to all college students,” ACTA President Anne Neal said at a gala dinner at the University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia.

“Whether protecting academic freedom or building a model community college with strong general education requirements, Benno has been at the epicenter of higher-education reform efforts for more than two decades.”SCHMIDT

In a letter presented to the honoree, Powell called Schmidt “a leader in insisting on the highest standards for our education institutions. He has been a champion of reform and a firm believer that every youngster needs a firm grounding in the liberal arts to be a complete person and citizen.”

Chancellor Goldstein recalled the 1990s, when CUNY faced intense scrutiny. “The University had really lost its way: It lacked standards, vision, accountability and leadership and was headed woefully in the wrong direction.” Mayor Rudy Giuliani asked Schmidt to head a task force whose report “led directly to CUNY’s subsequent, and still unfolding, renaissance” through higher academic standards, new leadership and strictly applied assessment and accountability measures, the chancellor said.

Referring to Schmidt’s past as Columbia’s Law School dean, Yale University president, and chief executive officer and now board member of EdisonLearning Inc., Chancellor Goldstein added: “The institution where Benno has had the greatest effect is the one where he has never been given a dime for his services, where he acted solely out of a sense of civic duty.”

He is “a tireless advocate for the University and for creating a public system in which access and quality are mutually valued and pursued… . He has not only articulated the ideals of a true liberal education; he also has taken courageous action to ensure that every deserving student has the opportunity to achieve such an education.”