Sat, Mar 23, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Trump orders US colleges to back free speech

AP

US President Donald Trump, center, signs an executive order in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Thursday.

Photo: Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order requiring US colleges to protect free speech on their campuses or risk losing federal research funding.

The order directs federal agencies to ensure that any college or university receiving research grants agrees to promote free speech and the exchange of ideas, and to follow federal rules guiding free expression.

“Even as universities have received billions and billions of [US] dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the first amendment,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony. “These universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans.”

The order follows a growing chorus of complaints from conservatives who say their voices have been stifled on campuses across the US. Joining Trump at the ceremony were students who said they were challenged by their colleges while trying to express views against abortion or in support of their faith.

Trump initially proposed the idea during a March 2 speech, highlighting the case of Hayden Williams, who was punched in the face while recruiting for the group Turning Point USA at the University of California, Berkeley.

He invoked the case again on Thursday, saying that Williams was hit hard, “but he didn’t go down.”

Under the order, colleges would need to agree to protect free speech to tap into more than US$35 billion a year in research and educational grants.

For public universities, that means vowing to uphold the first amendment of the US constitution, which they are already required to do. Private universities, which have more flexibility in limiting speech, will be required to commit to their own institutional rules.

“We will not stand idly by to allow public institutions to violate their students’ constitutional rights,” Trump said. “If a college or university doesn’t allow you to speak, we will not give them money. It’s very simple.”

Enforcement of the order will be left to federal agencies that award grants, but how institutes would be monitored and what types of violations could trigger a loss of funding have yet to be seen.

White House officials said details about the implementation would be finalized in the next few months.

Many colleges have firmly opposed the need for an executive order.

Following Trump’s speech, Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California, said that many are “ground zero” for the exchange of ideas.

“We do not need the federal government to mandate what already exists: Our longstanding, unequivocal support for freedom of expression,” she said. “This executive order will only muddle policies surrounding free speech, while doing nothing to further the aim of the first amendment.”

The American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 college presidents, called the order “a solution in search of a problem.”

“No matter how this order is implemented, it is neither needed nor desirable, and could lead to unwanted federal micromanagement of the cutting-edge research that is critical to our nation’s continued vitality and global leadership,” said Ted Mitchell, the organization’s president.

US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos focused on another part of the order dealing with transparency in college performance data.

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