Fearing that conservative students are not free to express their views on university campuses, the President signed an executive order on 21 March which links free speech to federal funding for colleges.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on March 22, 2019

The new executive order provides that universities will have to certify whether they are upholding the right of students to free speech in order to receive grants from the 12 federal agencies involved in tertiary education.

The US already has a constitutionally enshrined right to free speech in the First Amendment but the Trump administration has claimed that protesters and liberals are curtailing the freedoms of right-wing students.

“We are here today to take historic action to defend American Students and American Values,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “In a few moments, I will be signing an Executive Order to protect FREE SPEECH on College Campuses.”

Trump signed the executive order to defend “under siege” American values

“We’re here to take historic action to defend American students and American values. They are under siege,” Trump told reporters at the White House signing.

“Every year the federal government provides educational institutions with more than $35 billion dollars in research funding, all of that money is now at stake. That’s a lot of money. They’re going to have to not like your views a lot, right?” he continued. “If a college or university does not allow you to speak, we will not give them money.”

The order is more of a symbolic move than a substantive change to the law, but it continues Trump’s willingness to wade into the culture wars and his perception that conservative values are under siege.

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) released a statement in response to the order, saying that schools already had a “fundamental commitment to free expression and the unfettered pursuit of the truth.”

It went on to say that a unilateral executive order was not the proper vehicle to change existing policy and “does not — and cannot — add to or subtract from our pre-existing obligations under the Constitution.”

Right-wing speakers banned from university campuses

Trump had previously threatened to withdraw federal funding from the liberal University of California, Berkeley after it cancelled an event featuring right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. That sentiment struck a chord with his supporters; the tweet was liked 199,000 times.

The President also highlighted the case of Hayden Williams, a UC Berkeley student who was reportedly punched in the head for being conservative. Standing alongside Williams at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump said: “If (colleges) want our dollars, and we give it to them by the billions, they’ve got to allow people like Hayden and many other great young people and old people to speak. Free speech. If they don’t, it will be costly.”

Trump has also taken aim at social media platforms and what he calls “fake news” publications for what he sees as a bias against conservatives.