Opposition to Trump's Executive Order Plan

March 5, 2019

The University of Chicago is known for its strong commitment to free expression on campus. The university's president, Robert J. Zimmer, has repeatedly called on colleges to assure that their institutions are open to all kinds of speakers, without regard to whether some on campus disagree with their views. On Monday, Zimmer sent an email to his campus opposing President Trump's plan to issue an executive order to cut off federal research dollars to institutions determined not to be supporting free speech.

His email said in part, "There are two related features of potential federal engagement on this issue that would threaten the mission of institutions of higher education. They would do so by creating the specter of less rather than more free expression, and by deeply chilling the environment for discourse and intellectual challenge. The first feature is the precedent of the federal government establishing its own standing to interfere in the issue of speech on campuses. This opens the door to any number of troubling policies over time that the federal government, whatever the political party involved, might adopt on such matters. It makes the government, with all its power and authority, a party to defining the very nature of discussion on campus. The second feature is the inevitable establishment of a bureaucracy to enforce any governmental position. A committee in Washington passing judgment on the speech policies and activities of educational institutions, judgments that may change according to who is in power and what policies they wish to promulgate, would be a profound threat to open discourse on campus. In fact, it would reproduce in Washington exactly the type of on-campus 'speech committee' that would be a natural and dangerous consequence of the position taken by many advocating for the limitation of discourse on campuses."

Zimmer isn't the only academic opposing the Trump proposal. Others are signing an open letter from the American Association of University Professors. That letter states, "Given the important role of colleges and universities in debate, dissent and the free exchange of ideas, the AAUP strongly supports freedom of expression on campus and the rights of faculty and students to invite speakers of their choosing. We oppose, however, any executive action that interferes with the institutional autonomy of colleges and universities by undermining the role of faculty, administration and governing board in institutional decision making and the role of students in the formulation and application of institutional policies affecting student affairs."

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