200 Professors Ask Trump to Hold Colleges Accountable for Free Speech Violations

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 21: U.S. President Donald Trump signs an executive order during an East Room event at the White House March 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. President Trump signed the executive order to require colleges to support free speech. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Alex Wong/Getty Images

More than 200 professors signed a letter this week urging President Donald Trump and Congress to hold universities accountable when they violate the First Amendment.

Professors and academics from around the country have signed onto a letter urging President Trump and Congress to uphold the First Amendment on college campuses. The letter was written to supplement President Trump’s recent executive order which aims to improve the state of free and open discourse on campus.

The letter, which was published by the National Association of Scholars, calls on President Trump and Congress to work together to ensure that intellectual freedom and free speech are upheld on university campuses.

Because the First Amendment more clearly applies to public universities, the letter asks private colleges to make their speech policies transparent:

The Higher Education Act must cease rewarding public colleges for violating the First Amendment. Public institutions with restrictive speech zones and speech codes, discriminatory treatment of religious student groups, and other policies and practices that violate the First Amendment must be stripped of eligibility for federal student loans and grants.  The enforcement of such penalties must comply with all existing law.

And private colleges should make all speech and association policies transparent and open to the public, as a condition of eligibility for Title IV loans and grants. Students should be fully informed about private institutions’ speech climates before they choose to enroll.

The letter uses strong language to indicate how important free speech is on campuses. It claims that universities are an “empty forge and cold furnace, where ideas are left to rust” without First Amendment and intellectual freedom protections.

Members of both parties have expressed concerns that college is too expensive, and much of the discussion around the reauthorization of the HEA has focused on reforming federal student aid. But without intellectual freedom, college is not a good investment. It is an empty forge and a cold furnace, where ideas are left to rust. Other reforms may bring the cost of college down, but we must better protect free inquiry in order to bring the quality of college up.

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