Trump Administration

Trump Will Sign Executive Order Requiring Colleges To Promote 'Free Inquiry' If They Want Federal Research Funds

"It is the policy of the federal government to encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate."

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President Trump will sign an executive order on Thursday requiring colleges and universities that receive federal research grants to make more of an effort to protect freedom of expression on campus.

The official announcement is coming later this afternoon, but the text of the order is already available. The key section is below:

"It is the policy of the federal government to encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate, including through compliance with the First Amendment for public institutions and compliance with stated institutional policies regarding freedom of speech for private institutions," the order states. "To advance [this policy], the heads of covered agencies shall, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, take appropriate steps, in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment, to ensure institutions that receive Federal research or education grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies."

The order differentiates between research grants and other types of federal funds, and notes that financial aid will not be imperiled by noncompliance with the above. It also instructs the federal government to publish information regarding "strategies for increasing student success, especially among students at high risk of not completing a postsecondary program of study."

It's very difficult to see how much of an effect—if any—this order will have on colleges and universities. As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes, "the order does not specify how or by what standard federal agencies will ensure compliance, the order's most consequential component."

As I've written previously, while there is indeed a free speech problem on college campuses, I'm concerned that an executive order is the wrong way to solve it. For one thing, students themselves are often the ones doing the censoring, and it's not clear to me that universities' research funding should be at risk just because the institutions are not doing enough to discourage illiberal activism. It's also easy to imagine a world in which universities over-interpret a mandate to support free inquiry, and end up stifling the free speech rights of certain students and professors who are at odds with the Trump administration's position on this.

Under the Obama administration, federal guidance to colleges instructing them to do more to address sexual misconduct resulted in an avalanche of unintended consequences that gravely threatened students' due process rights. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wisely rescinded this guidance.

Indeed, DeVos has maintained that "government muscle" is not the right way to address the campus free speech problem. During a speech in September, she said:

A solution won't come from defunding an institution of learning or merely getting the words of a campus policy exactly right. Solutions won't come from new laws from Washington, D.C., or from a speech police at the U.S. Department of Education.

DeVos is right; unfortunately, Trump's executive order is in tension with his secretary's preferred, superior approach.

That said, the executive order is light on specifics relating to enforcement. As a mere declaration that free inquiry on public university campuses ought to matter, and a reminder that the First Amendment exists, it's not particularly objectionable.

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25 responses to “Trump Will Sign Executive Order Requiring Colleges To Promote 'Free Inquiry' If They Want Federal Research Funds

  1. Great, this just means they will double down on their suppression of free expression, because Trump.

    1. They did it with the repeal of the “Dear Colleague” letter under President Obama. At best, I guess at least now we’ll know where these colleges actually stand. But, yeah, overall this is worthless and just shows that we shouldn’t be funding colleges to begin with.

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    3. A day late, a dollar short, and lacking in teeth…

      Get rid of licenses and the reqs for degrees before I can authorized to scratch my own ass, will go the LONGEST way towards solving this!!!

      We have sooooo many MDs with fancy degrees, now, they have had to create make-work programs requiring us to get an MD’s permission to scratch our butts or cough, fer Chrissakes!!!!

      To find precise details on what NOT to do, to avoid the flute police, please see http://www.churchofsqrls.com/DONT_DO_THIS/ ? This has been a pubic service, courtesy of the Church of SQRLS!

      1. Semi-OT post:

        USA colleges are only marginally under the thumbs of the Feds. Prisons and jails? Far more so!

        http://www.polygraph.info/a/ru…..32776.html

        Russia has far less per-capita jail birds than we do!!! Ditto the whole stinkin’ world!!!

        Quote from above source:

        With 670 people per 100,000 in prison or local jail for that year (the Statista portal put the figure at 655 prisoners per 100,000 in July 2018), the U.S. is estimated to have both the highest per capita incarceration rate and the largest prison population in the world.

        Would Trump please stick His Sacred Dick back in his pants, where He has little power, and exercise it where He CAN make a difference?!?!? START ISSUING MASS PARDONS TO NON-VIOLENT “CRIMINALS” might be a good place to start!!!!

  2. Do these executive orders have any meaningful effect? The way they’re worded it seems like they’re mostly suggestions or orders to investigate.

    1. Every Dear Colleague letter issued by the OCR is the same and we know how much weight they’re given.

  3. Foundation for Individual Rights in Education notes, “the order does not specify how or by what standard federal agencies will ensure compliance, the order’s most consequential component.”

    They could just lift section 1682 out of Title IX. This sounds like it’s going for the same type of goal.

  4. “For one thing, students themselves are often the ones doing the censoring, and it’s not clear to me that universities’ research funding should be at risk just because the institutions are not doing enough to discourage illiberal activism.”

    Since they are agents of the state they are already violating the First Amendment by allowing the heckler’s veto to prevail.

  5. ” For one thing, students themselves are often the ones doing the censoring, and it’s not clear to me that universities’ research funding should be at risk just because the institutions are not doing enough to discourage illiberal activism.”

    Would it clarify things if their research funding were at risk for refusing to do anything about rape gangs on campus, or a resurgence of the KKK?

    They’re not doing enough to discourage illiberal activism because they approve of it. The need SOME kind of motivation to overcome that approval.

    1. This response suggest the order is effective in its one only aim :

      Convincing Mr Trump’s ever-gullible supporters another dinner of red meat is served. Now if the meal proves to be light to nonexistent in protein, calories, vitamins, cholesterol and trans-fat – then all’s the better. It’s the thought that counts w/ this kind of dining experience.

      1. You’ve had extra stupid comments today. Is everything okay at home?

  6. If VMI couldn’t receive taxpayer funds because the way they implemented their official policies violated the 14th Amendment, I don’t see why other universities should be eligible for taxpayer funds if the way they implement their official policies violates the First Amendment.

    1. agreed. no safe spaces!

  7. For one thing, students themselves are often the ones doing the censoring, and it’s not clear to me that universities’ research funding should be at risk just because the institutions are not doing enough to discourage illiberal activism.

    What the shit? Their federal research funding should be in jeopardy the minute a single taxpayer thinks it should be. Not whether the majority of taxpayers think they should have it without regard to whether the minority wants to contribute or not. They should lose research funding at the drop of a hat. Let fucking Paul Allen, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffet worry about what research is going to get funded and how.

  8. Cutting off research funds isn’t that big of a deal. Cutting off the federal student loan money faucet would be an actual threat.

    1. Cutting off the research funds would be punishing the hard sciences departments more than the “studies” departments, I suspect.

      1. Pretty much.

      2. I dont think you realize how much the government funds go into soft sciences and the social arts.

        1. I probably don’t.

  9. Give the schools what they want. Arrest and prosecute hate crimes for anyone engaging in racism or sexism. Start with the ones pushing White privilege and toxic masculinity courses.

  10. AFAIK, Congress has never required colleges/universities to respect free expression as a condition of federal grants.

    Congress has allowed for federal lawsuits against state colleges for constitutional violations, and I suppose that in some cases the federal courts would hear cases against private colleges violating their terms of service (or whatever you call them).

    I suppose that if a federal court issued an injunction requiring some college/university to observe free expression, the executive could then see to it that the injunction was carried out against any resistance.

    1. I can imagine a federal court issuing a free-speech order against, say, Berkeley, like the integration orders against the Jim Crow colleges. Then if there’s a risk of riots in resistance to the order, the feds can do like with integration and send in marshals or National Guard.

      Wouldn’t that be fun?

      1. +1 Little Rock, Arkansas 1957 redux.

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