Education

Trump Acts to Protect Free Speech at America's Universities

His EO threatens to withhold research grants to schools that don't promote and protect free speech.

Thomas Gallatin · Mar. 22, 2019

“Under the policy I announced today, federal agencies will use their authority under various grant-making programs to ensure that public universities protect [and] cherish … the First Amendment rights of their students, or risk losing billions and billions of dollars in federal taxpayer dollars,” President Donald Trump stated on Thursday as he signed his executive order directing America’s colleges and universities to protect free speech. By signing the executive order, Trump made good on the promise he made at CPAC earlier this month.

Trump defended the need for his order by noting, “Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces, trigger warnings, these universities tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans. … Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize anti-First Amendment institutions — and that’s exactly what they are, anti-First Amendment. Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech, not silence free speech.”

Trump’s order is low on specifics, but it does note that only research grant money doled out by the federal government to colleges and universities every year would be affected and not aid programs for federal student loans. As Reason’s Robby Soave observes, Trump’s EO “mostly serves as a declaration of support for the First Amendment, and a sign that the Trump administration is looking at doing something to help graduates drowning in debt.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan free-speech-promoting watchdog organization that rates America’s colleges and universities for their adherence to free speech, gave guarded support for the spirit of the order while voicing a wariness to federal overreach. “FIRE will watch closely to see if today’s action furthers the meaningful, lasting policy changes that FIRE has secured over two decades — or results in unintended consequences that threaten free expression and academic freedom.”

When Trump first brought up issuing an executive order on protecting campus free speech, we too agreed with his sentiment but were concerned that it could run into the realm of executive overreach. Upon seeing the order, those concerns are somewhat alleviated, as the order appears to be more of a symbolic gesture designed to publicly highlight the growing problem of silencing speech on many of America’s college and university campuses. Trump is using the presidential bully pulpit to shine a national spotlight on the problem that much of the mainstream media has ignored and that many leftist university professors deny even exits. As he has constantly done in highlighting the leftist bias in the MSM, Trump is similarly seeking to expose the massive leftist bias that exists within the halls of America’s institutions of higher learning.

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