Alexander: Congress Shouldn’t Pass Campus Free Speech Law

September 18, 2018

Senator Lamar Alexander, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said Monday that Congress shouldn’t attempt to attach federal funding to a college’s protection of free speech rights on campus.

Higher ed leaders should instead promote campus speech themselves by taking steps like refusing the heckler’s veto and adopting the Chicago principles of freedom of expression, Alexander said.

“It doesn’t work,” he said of a potential federal mandate.

Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, shared those thoughts in an exchange with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as part of a Justice Department forum on free speech in higher education, an issue that has increasingly preoccupied Trump administration officials.

President Trump himself warned last year that the federal government could withdraw federal funds from the University of California, Berkeley, after leftist and antifascist protesters blocked right-wing provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking on campus amid sometimes violent protests.

Alexander, like many fellow conservatives, claimed both that college students today are too coddled and that college administrators have caved too easily to the heckler’s veto, where students use protests or other tactics to block appearances by controversial speakers. And he argued that promoting underrepresented points of view -- especially conservative opinions -- should be as important to colleges as promoting a diversity of student backgrounds on campus.

“Let’s recognize that campuses need underrepresented points of view as much as colleges need underrepresented students. That universities should work just as hard to have underrepresented points of view -- which are today, in many cases, conservative points of view -- on the campus,” he said.

Colleges themselves should be organizing forums of their own to discuss how to promote campus free speech and how campus leaders should handle incidents like student protest, he said.

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