President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday afternoon designed to protect “free inquiry” on college campuses, which supporters have called a victory for free speech and opponents have criticized for government overreach.
The order, titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” asks 12 executive agencies to use federal grants to guarantee that colleges and universities comply with existing free speech laws by threatening to withhold funds. It does not affect federally-funded financial aid and tuition programs.
The University, through a working group led by Provost Richard Locke P ’18, will spend the next few days reviewing the order before sharing next steps with the Brown community. “Freedom of expression is an essential component of academic freedom, which protects our ability to fulfill our core mission of advancing knowledge,” wrote President Christina Paxson P’19 in an email to The Herald.
Earlier this month, after President Trump suggested the executive order in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Locke expressed his opposition during a faculty meeting. Locke referred to an executive order on free speech as “a tremendous government overreach into the affairs of universities, both public and private.” Since the University is already committed to free speech, an executive order of this nature is “unnecessary,” he added.
President Trump said that by signing the executive order, he is “taking historic action to defend American students and American values that have been under siege,” the Washington Post reported. According to the order, the executive agencies tasked with enforcing free speech on college campuses are the Departments of Defense, the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Transportation, Energy and Education; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Science Foundation and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The order does not create a new agency tasked with policing or defining free speech on campus, nor is there a clear implementation strategy for withholding federal funds to universities.
Executive action on free speech has been a priority for conservative activists, who allege that conservative viewpoints are suppressed on college campuses throughout the country. Founder and Executive Director of Turning Point USA Charlie Kirk was one of the leading activists urging Trump to sign the executive order, according to Business Insider.