Trump signs seemingly empty freedom of speech executive order


Jacob WaringOpinions & Features Editor

President Trump signed an executive order on March 21 with the intention of protecting the freedom of speech on college campuses. This sounds fantastic, as most would agree that they want their speech protected. It does not matter where you land on the political spectrum, because we all have the right to speak about our opinions and views. According to a poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates for the William F. Buckley Jr. Program at Yale University, 73%-that is, three in four voters-are in favor of the executive order.

There is one caveat on my end I find the executive order is hollower than the  empty husk of a cicada. No new protections for campus speech were created. The executive order restates the universities and other colleges obligations to follow current federal law, policies and regulations. There is the foreboding threat of losing federal research funding, but it seems like higher education institutions must simply reaffirm they are committed to the current laws in place.

I feel like this is an attempt by Trump to appeal to his base with an executive order that is about nothing. That the order is an useless order masquerading as accomplishing something.

I am not dismissing the issue at hand. I do believe that colleges should be respectful of views from both sides of the political spectrum. Traditionally, universities and colleges tend to lean more towards liberal viewpoints and that makes those with conservative views feel unheard. I believe campuses across this country can do a better job at making conservative students feel more included on their campus.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics there are over 4,583 colleges and universities in the United States. From the studies I have read, contrary to what those behind the order may believe, freedom of speech does not arise as an issue that requires the intervention of the President of the United States of America.

According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, between the years of 2011 and 2016 there have been between 20 to 42 cases of problematic political speech per year. The Niskanen Center, a nonpartisan think tank, found that between the years of 2015 to 2017 that there have been 45 cases where a faculty member was fired, resigned, or demoted due to political speech. 13 of those cases was concerned a conservative faculty member.

So, it is problematic, but does not rise to the level of a crisis requiring an executive order. A handful of instances spread across over 4,583 colleges and universities does not seem like an epidemic of neutered free speech. I feel that the media, including news media, has overblown this issue into something that it is not.

Within the order, the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation are in the position to identify which universities and colleges that do or do not follow all the rules in place for free speech on campuses. However, there is nothing yet in place beyond who decides who is complying.

What happens if an institution is found to not be in complacence to the rules? Do they automatically lose funding? Do they get warnings? Who oversees the process to assure it is non-partisan in nature? There are so many unanswered questions. It makes me feel uneasy that perhaps there is no captain steering this ship, or that it will be steered onward towards an iceberg. Wherein this executive order will make the issue worse rather than better.

This executive order comes off as a political stunt at the expense of everyone involved: those who passionately care about this issue, the institutions who have no basis as to how this order will be handled, and the agencies who will potently waste their resources trying to answer the before mentioned questions raised by the order.

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