President Trump recently signed an executive order protecting freedom of speech on college campuses, in light of student activists claiming that conservative views are suppressed. Two Warrior writers argue the merits of each side.
by Sudha Sudhaker ‘21
President Trump’s executive order is enforcing what college campuses should already be doing, which is defending the constitutional rights of students. The voices of Conservative students have been stifled on college campuses, as they are not able to express their views without being attacked or silenced. It is unfortunate that an executive order from the president is even needed to force administrators to follow the First Amendment.
Universities should not be receiving billions of dollars from taxpayers if they are becoming increasingly hostile to free speech on campuses. After all, it is the responsibility of the executive branch to make sure the Constitution and laws are enforced.
Contrary to what opponents may claim, Trump’s executive orders is in no way favoring conservative ideology on campuses. The executive order requires that the colleges certify that their policies support free speech. The order does not specifically call for protections of freedom of speech only from conservative students, as it requires that both ideologies are protected and represented on campuses. However, it is mostly conservative students who get attacked because of their views, which is why Trump decided that something needed to be done to protect free speech for all students.
Conservative activist, Ben Shapiro, had his invitation revoked to speak at California State University after critics claimed that Shapiro’s conservative beliefs were not a debate, but an attack. The university later allowed Shapiro to come to the campus only after he threatened legal action. Ellen Wittman, a conservative student of Miami University in Ohio, runs a pro-life group on campus. When Wittman decided to have a Cross Display on campus, the university had told her to put up trigger warning signs that read “The Students for Life are displaying their annual Cross Display from October to November”. These signs discouraged students from looking at the display and Wittmann argued that the university had not told other organizations to put up similar signs for their displays.
The actions of the college administrations have demonstrated that they have been limiting freedom of speech rather than promoting it.
Students should expect to have their beliefs challenged, but they should also learn to work through these disagreements. This forges critical thinkers out of impressionable young students. If students are only exposed to a comfortable college setting where they are not encouraged to practice peaceful conflict resolution, they are being robbed of the skills needed to deal with the inevitable disagreements they will experience in the real world.
by Vendela Krenkel ’20
President Trump, on March 21, issued an executive order calling for universities receiving money from federal agencies to promote “free inquiry” on campuses across the country or risk the loss of federal funds. Trump stressed the need to “encourage institutions to foster environments that promote open, intellectually engaging, and diverse debate [and]… avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives.” Trump’s executive order is clearly politically motivated and will unfairly favor conservative college students and outside speakers who seek to visit colleges to make intentionally provocative statements that garner outcry to gain publicity for their movements.
After signing the order, Trump mentioned that he hopes to prevent universities from suppressing those that are “challenging rigid, far-left ideology.” It is important to remember that colleges and universities are widely considered the birthplace of debate and discourse, and although demographics reflect left-leaning political alignments in many students, there are already safe spaces for conservative students and speakers to share their opinions. In addition, opinionated individuals will face conflict from their opposing viewpoints no matter where they express themselves. This is a part of debate and discourse.
The hypocrisy of Trump is staggering here; the man who throws a Twitter temper tantrum any time he is criticized, who refers to the media as his enemy for reporting on his missteps, is now asserting that everyone deserves an equal seat at the table. This is alarming because this could foster a setting in which colleges would act as a platform for extremists. Encouraging far-right wing viewpoints is divisive in itself, and enforcing the order, depending on its interpretation, could act as a means to silence resistance to Trump and his supporters.
Trump’s executive order is also utterly unnecessary; freedom of speech already legally protects the voices of students and others on campus. To add another directive to a long list of laws that are in place in safeguard freedom of expression both on and off campus is indicative that this order is a political statement that Trump will not tolerate discourse or opposition.
This order raises the question of who will decide whether a university is upholding free speech, and what definition they will use to do so. Due to the vagueness of the executive order, no specific agency has been put in charge of regulating campuses. Concerns on whether the agency tasked with the supervision will oversee conduct according to the established rules of the First Amendment or their own interpretations of the order have been brought up. If it is to be upheld, those who will determine what constitutes denying the right to free speech and defying the order will need to do so in a neutral, unbiased way so as to prevent discrimination based on ideology.