“The directive is the latest move on the part of the Trump administration, which has been flexing unprecedented legal muscle to defend conservative students in free-speech lawsuits against their universities.”

Trump to Issue Order Tying Federal Grants to Free Speech on Campus
By Michelle Hackman
The Wall Street Journal
March 20, 2019

President Trump is expected to issue an executive order Thursday directing federal agencies to tie research and education grants made to colleges and universities to more aggressive enforcement of the First Amendment, according to a draft of the order viewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The order instructs agencies including the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Defense to ensure that public educational institutions comply with the First Amendment, and that private institutions live up to their own stated free-speech standards.

Mr. Trump announced his intention to issue an executive order concerning free speech on college campuses last month at the Conservative Political Action Conference, citing allegations that conservatives on campuses across the U.S. were being silenced.

The directive is the latest move on the part of the Trump administration, which has been flexing unprecedented legal muscle to defend conservative students in free-speech lawsuits against their universities. The suits broadly claim the universities have violated students’ free-speech rights by restricting where or when they could hold protests or host speakers.

Cabinet agencies will be free to draw up their own guidelines that could outline what the administration considers noncompliance with the First Amendment, a senior administration official said.

“Free inquiry is an essential feature of our Nation’s democracy, and it promotes learning, scientific discovery, and economic prosperity,” the order reads. “We must encourage institutions to…avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning.”

Separately, the presidential order will require the government to seek more detailed data from colleges and universities on the debt and earnings of their graduates, broken down by their major or program of study.

The goal is to allow prospective students to compare not just schools, but programs within them, before going into tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a degree that may not pay off financially.

The move brings into focus the current administration’s belief that more information about the value of a college degree—rather than government moves to punish what it deems the worst actors—is the best way to create a better-functioning market in higher education.

The senior administration official said that, once the more detailed data begins to be published, the administration can develop a more targeted mechanism to keep the worst actors accountable. The official mentioned one possible measure to place colleges on the hook if former students default on their student loans, a proposal the order doesn’t include.

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