President Trump today issued an Executive Order “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities.” While the National Coalition Against Censorship agrees with the president that “free inquiry…promotes learning [and] scientific discovery,” we also firmly believe that universities must be free to determine who teaches and what should be taught, as well as how to handle dissent on campus.
The Executive Order directs government agencies which provide research funding to colleges and universities to ensure that institutions receiving funding “promote free inquiry.” Public universities are already subject to the First Amendment, which protects the speech of students, faculty, invited speakers and protestors.
The order does not specify how government agencies will measure an institution’s compliance, nor how political bias will be eliminated from those measurements. As a result, the opportunity for politically-motivated decisions about what speech should or should not be permitted on university campuses is far too great.
Government control of campus speech under the guise of protecting free speech is more likely to chill academic freedom than to encourage greater diversity of thought. Colleges and universities will continue to be bound by the First Amendment and their own commitments to academic freedom and freedom of inquiry.
While some universities have struggled to balance campus safety with openness to political disagreement, institutions of higher education must retain their academic freedom.
NCAC will closely monitor policy changes that result from this Executive Order and will continue to support colleges and universities in maintaining their institutional autonomy and celebrating diverse inquiry.