The executive order that President Trump signed on Thursday, designed to protect free speech on college campuses, was less harsh than many critics had feared. Still, controversy clung to the measure, with constitutional-law scholars and higher-education leaders calling it unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
The order, which also focuses on colleges' transparency and accountability, directs the leaders of 12 federal agencies, in coordination with the director of the Office of Management and Budget, to "take appropriate steps" consistent with the First Amendment and applicable laws to ensure that institutions receiving federal research or education grants "promote free inquiry" in compliance with applicable federal laws, regulations, and policies.
"It all depends on how the federal government interprets promoting free speech," said Catherine J. Ross a law professor at George Washington University. "If what they mean is, you never invited a white nationalist to speak at the university, you never invited a climate-change denier to speak at your university, we think you're not engaging in free expression, we're not giving you a grant," that is deeply disturbing, she said. It also misunderstands how colleges function. "Not everyone has a right to speak at a college. Colleges get to choose."
Geoffrey R. Stone, a law professor and former provost of the University of Chicago, echoed Ross's concerns about widening the array of bureaucrats who might adjudicate questions of what constitutes free inquiry. "People not trained the way judges are trained, who don't have lawyers presenting arguments to them, means that they will be able to put enormous pressure on public universities to do things under the guise of applying the Constitution," he said.
Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education