Critics pan Trump’s campus free speech executive order

March 7, 2019 by donal brown

President Donald Trump announced he would soon issue an executive order requiring universities and colleges receiving federal research funds to support free speech. Trump was reacting to the incident at UC Berkeley where a non-student  was punched by another outsider while recruiting students for a conservative cause. The university condemned the attack and arrested the assailant. Ironies abound given Trump’s sorry history in opposing free speech in blocking critics from his Twitter account, lambasting the press, and standing against NFL players protesting during the national anthem. (Forbes, March 5, 2019, by Michael T. Nietzel)

Bloomberg columnist Noah Feldman, Chicago Tribune, March 4, 2019, says the Trump executive order would be a bad idea. Public universities are already bound to honor the First Amendment. Feldman argues that universities must also protect academic freedom which differs from free speech in its dedication “to collectively developed norms of excellence – and of truth.”  Governments are never the deciders of truth and falsity in public forums. “What’s more,” Feldman writes, “academic communities are designed to produce the exchange of ideas through discussion and argument. Meaningful argument requires some basic conditions of civility and decorum, including respect for others and tolerance of dissenting views. The public square doesn’t have those same goals, and so it doesn’t share the same ground rules.”

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