President Trump criticized colleges and universities for failing to protect the free speech rights of students during his remarks at a press conference Thursday. He then signed an executive order that will push universities to do more to protect freedom of speech if they wish to continue receiving federal research dollars.
"Many [universities] have become increasingly hostile to the First Amendment and free speech," said Trump. "Under the guise of speech codes, safe spaces, and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans like those here today. All of that changes starting right now. We're dealing with billions and billions and billions of dollars."
Trump repeatedly praised the many conservative activist students who have brought free speech issues to light—he twice referenced Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk—and promised to support them.
"You've fought bravely for your rights and now you have a president who is fighting for you," said Trump. "I'm with you all the way."
The text of the order, though, does not make it exactly clear what standard various government agencies will use to decide whether universities are violating students' rights. As such, it mostly serves as a declaration of support for the First Amendment, and a sign that the Trump administration is paying attention to what's happening on campuses.
The president also lamented skyrocketing tuition prices and the crushing burden of student loan debt that many students face. He also made reference to the connection between government-subsidized loans and increasing tuition costs., and signaled that his administration is looking at doing something to help graduates drowning in debt.
"The reason is there's no incentive for [colleges and universities] to watch costs," he said. "People at the heads of the institutions, being paid a fortune, they don't care because the government loans the student the money, they pay the money to the college, and then the student graduates the college or university and they're stuck with $200,000 in loans they won't be able to pay for a long time."