The action seems designed simply to flatter Trump’s base while casting the president as a First Amendment watchdog.
President Donald Trump has signed an executive order designed to promote and protect free speech on college campuses.
Lauded by conservative media and called “redundant” by The Atlantic, the order comes some two years after Trump first told off universities for being too intolerant.
“If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view,” Trump tweeted in February 2017, “NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
That tweet was written in response to U.C. protests that turned violent. It also accentuates conservative claims that American colleges are run with a distinctly liberal bias. Critics of campus administrators nationwide have pointed to instances of students and faculty shutting out right-wing speakers, politicians and pundits.
Thursday’s ceremony saw the president emphasize the supposed systematic injustices being foist upon college conservatives.
“We’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values,” Trump said. “They’ve been under siege.
“Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free though, impose total conformity and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today.”
We are here today to take historic action to defend American Students and American Values. In a few moments, I will be signing an Executive Order to protect FREE SPEECH on College Campuses.https://t.co/gFFnSl1bEF
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 21, 2019
To that end, Trump’s executive order directs federal agencies to “take appropriate steps” to ensure that universities receiving federal research funding promote “free inquiry.” According to The Atlantic, it essentially tells colleges to continue doing what they already do.
Non-compliance would not threaten or otherwise impact federal student financial aid.
“Taxpayer dollars should not subsidize anti-First Amendment institutions,” Trump said during a signing ceremony. “Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech, not silence free speech.”
Reiterating his earlier promise, Trump added, “If a college or university does not let you speak, we will not give them money.”
While much of Trump’s order seems little more than fodder for his political base, The Atlantic notes that one addition is likely to garner bipartisan praise—along with ensuring free speech, it also requires that colleges report outcome data for graduates. That falls in line with other initiatives to compile databases highlighting graduation rates, average indebtedness and earnings for students who complete particular programs at certain universities.
Nevertheless, it’s the claims of an all-out assault on conservatives that have won the most praise and attracted the greatest attention from the president’s supporters.
Right-wing radio host Dennis Prager suggested the order was a “necessary” consequence of liberal oppression.
“It’s tragic that in the one country that was founded on liberty—the country that enshrined freedom of speech in its foundational document—this executive order has become necessary,” Prager said. “But, thanks to the left, it has. If President Trump can put a stop to intolerance of non-leftist viewpoints on college campuses and help steer the country in the right direction, there just might be home.”