At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday (March 2), President Donald Trump promised to sign an executive order cutting off funds to colleges and universities that do not maintain free speech.
“Today, I am proud to announce that I will be very soon signing an executive order requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research funds,” Trump said in his speech.
The president said “it will be very costly” if institutions don’t comply, but he did not give many details about the possible executive order or who would decide if schools were adequately protecting free speech. Federal research funding amounts to more than $26 billion annually, according to the National Science Foundation.
The President brought conservative activist Hayden Williams to the stage during his speech. Williams was punched at the University of California (UC), Berkeley, while helping a conservative group recruit students, Reuters reports. Trump suggested Williams sue Berkeley and possibly the state.
Trump failed to mention the response from UC Berkeley, which arrested someone for assaulting Williams, who is not a Berkeley student and who had been permitted to come to campus and express his views, according to Inside Higher Ed. In a statement, UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof says that these events have “been willfully distorted and inaccurately reported.”
In an interview after Trump’s speech, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for the American Council on Education, called the executive order “a solution in search of a problem,” because “free speech and academic freedom are core values of research universities.”
Hartle also commented on the lack of a consistent position on free speech in the Trump Administration. “This is an administration that stifles the views of its own research scientists if they are counter to the political views of the administration, such as on climate change. And the president vigorously attacks people like Colin Kaepernick who exercise their free speech rights,” he said in the interview.
Some experts believe the President may succeed in using an executive order to restrict research funds. “There’s a history of the federal government requiring universities to do certain kinds of things in order to receive federal research funding,” Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a professor of education at American University, tells The Washington Post. Miller-Idriss gives the example of the government’s ethical guidelines for projects with human subjects.