President Trump’s gift – is authenticity. He showed it again last week in an unabashed Executive Order (EO) reaffirming America’s unwavering commitment to free speech on college campuses. Offending and being offended is part of America’s rich tradition, political uniqueness, and inter-generational quest for truth, a quest preserved by our Constitution’s First Amendment.
President Trump sees all that, and doesn’t mince words saying so. His proclamation, entitled “Executive Order on Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” responds to a disturbing rise of physical violence, intimidation in and out of classrooms, and administrative actions taken against conservative, traditional and religious students, faculty and speakers on college campuses.
The EO states that the Trump Administration “seeks to promote free and open debate on college and university campuses,” explaining “free inquiry is an essential feature of our Nation’s democracy and it promotes learning, scientific discovery, and economic prosperity.”
The EO continues: “We encourage institutions to appropriately account for this bedrock principle in their administration of student life and to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning.”
Notably, the President is drawing an explicit link between freedom to speak freely and higher education’s research and discovery mission. Truth is only found in religion, science, social science, interpretative reading, creative writing, and theoretical physics to method acting – when all perspectives, possibilities, and potential views on the world are permitted in conversation.
Short of that, and especially faced with the chilling effect of implicit or threatened violence, the search for truth is stifled. This is not a new thought, but one that needs refreshing. Think about all the advances – social, scientific, culturally preservative and restorative – which would not have happened if violence or its threat had been allowed to rule the day.
Ironically, the American progressive left wants to end history with bricks and bats, shutting down all voices not in accord with their oppressive ideology, when they are the prime beneficiaries of free speech on campuses and across this country. Lasting change of any kind only occurs by persuading the unpersuaded that they should rethink their views, reorient their actions to align with newly discovered – or rediscovered – truth. Absent free speech, and respect for it, that does not happen. Those who oppose free speech on campuses – to include thoughtful reflection on conservative ideas – should actually be for it, not against it.
That is what President Trump’s EO reminds the Nation. Moreover, “to advance the policy described,” the administration will work “to ensure institutions that receive Federal research or educational grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.” In short, the President is standing tall for free speech, defending the Constitution to which he swore an oath of fidelity.
Of course, universities and media commentators are distressed. One would think such an obvious declaration, linking federal tax dollars with upholding US Constitutional rights, would be uncontroversial. But no, The Academy is aflutter.
Why? Administrators, faculty, unions and media protest that campuses already protect free speech, although the factual record suggests otherwise. They complain the EO is unnecessary. They ask who will decide whether they are suppressing speech. They are offended.
The American Council on Education complains the EO “could lead to unwanted federal micromanagement … critical to our nation’s continued vitality and global leadership.” You mean, the end of the world as we know it?
The American Association of University Professors argues that it will accomplish little, “but is troubling in that it serves a broader goal of attempting to discredit higher education.” Wait: Haven’t emotionally-charged, politically one-sided, outwardly-hostile, in some cases violence-promoting faculty on campuses already done a good job of that? Isn’t that why this EO – protecting minority conservative students, faculty and speakers – became necessary? Isn’t that why an authentic voice had to speak? In the end, members of that exclusive club called tenured college faculty are offended. They are offended that President Trump is shining a light on something most Americans know and resent, that The Academy seeks to promote itself, to promote its left-leaning “progressive” mindset, to silence minority conservative, traditional and religious voices – while collecting tax dollars from the very Americans it despises. The irony is sharp. That is why the EO was issued. Mr. and Ms. Members of the esteemed Academy – we regret that you are offended. Meet the First Amendment.