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News & Media

APLU Expresses Deep Concern with President Trump’s Campus Free Speech Executive Order

March 21, 2019

Washington, DC – Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today released the following statement in response to President Trump signing an executive order on campus free speech.

"An executive order of this kind is plainly unnecessary. Public universities are already bound by the First Amendment and work each day to defend and honor it. The commitment to free speech, the vigorous exchange of ideas, and academic freedom go to the very core of what public universities are all about. It is inherent to their very identity.

“The campus free speech executive order signed today is a very concerning federal overreach. Under this executive order, politically-appointed department and agency heads have been directed to take action that could, as President Trump suggested, strip or block federal research funding from universities they subjectively believe aren’t adequately permitting the diverse debate of ideas. While enforcement could be challenged in court, this executive order is deeply disturbing on many levels.

“It’s hard to comprehend how this executive order will be carried out by this or future administrations. By design, political appointees and agency heads will be making these decisions and we can expect their decisions would be focused more on defending those who share their political positions regardless of which party is in office. Government-assured speech is not free speech. This should concern everyone.

“All of this is not to say public universities are perfect. Universities are often faced with limited information, passionate and provocative speakers, and even threats to public safety. By their own admission, public universities need to constantly revisit policies and procedures to allow a diverse array of opinions to be heard while preventing acts of violence. There is a legal system to ensure the First Amendment is upheld. To inject political decisionmakers based in Washington into the mix would turn this entire process on its head.

“This executive order is also alarming because it now potentially subjects vital federal research to political interference. Universities undertake critical research, including developing lifesaving biomedical cures and Department of Defense-funded research that keeps America safe. There’s a reason that federal agencies have a rigorous, independent review process for federal research applications: there is no place for politics in such important work.

“As institutions of higher learning, public universities are constantly working to identify new ways to educate students on the importance of free expression, provide venues for free speech, and advance our world through free academic inquiry. No executive order will change that.”

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