Thursday, March 28, 2019

Reaction To Trump’s “Free Speech” Order Reveals Bias

By Professor Doom

     Trump recently issued an executive order denying Federal funds to campuses which restrict free speech. It’s a bit toothless, since it would only affect research funds (i.e., not the bread-and-butter of student loan money), and doesn’t define “restrict” well…but it highlights that we clearly have a problem on our campuses, even as I acknowledge that this should only apply to publicly funded schools in any event.

      But, we clearly have a problem on our campuses, which use social media to screen students and punish professors for saying the wrong things off campus. We have a system where most critics of higher ed must use pseudonyms because retribution is swift and pitiless from those who run the system. We have a system where the guy who discovered DNA is banned from campus because of something he said decades ago.

     So even if the order doesn’t mean much, the response to the order is interesting.

This is not the first time President Trump has used an incident at Berkeley to suggest that federal research dollars should be cut off over alleged denial of free speech rights.

Berkeley used to be an icon of campus free speech, but, sadly, those days are long gone. Anti-free speech incidents keep happening there for a reason, after all. That said, they tried to dismiss Trump’s assertions:

What he didn't note at that time was that Berkeley officials had allowed Yiannopoulos to speak, calling off the event only amid the violence. Berkeley had defended his right to appear on campus (and he has appeared since), citing principles of free speech even as some on campus said he should be kept away because of views many find offensive.

      What a backhanded defense of Milo Yiannopoulos! Why not instead say “Berkeley defended Milo from the terroristic actions of violent racists…” instead of the limp and ill-defined “views many find offensive.” The article I’m quoting from clearly is biased against Trump, and that’s the reaction I’m noting here:

Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, in an interview shortly after President Trump's Saturday speech, called the proposed executive order "a solution in search of a problem.

     Wait, what? We have so many anti-free speech incidents on campus that we can run statistical tests to correlate them with tuition, assuming my previous examples weren’t evidence enough. You’d have to be extremely ignorant of higher education not to see there’s a problem here. It really seems like a big site like Inside Higher Ed could poke around a bit to see this.

      Instead, the article attacks “The Trump Administration” record, including Trump blocking hecklers from his Twitter. This is very far removed from an Executive Order, and I do hope someone lets Inside Higher Ed know just how much deplatforming of major news sites has been going on of late. How does a site this ignorant of reality and loaded with hypocrisy stay up?

Among organizations that promote free expression on campus, the response to President Trump's Saturday speech was tepid.

      Really? They go on to quote from places in higher education I’ve never heard of (I remind the gentle reader I’ve been in higher ed for 30 years). They couldn’t find anyone excited about this? How hard could it be? I’ll take a few seconds and see if I can find anyone excited about it. Yeah, that was tough:

      Yeah, I guess Fox News isn’t big enough for Inside Higher Ed to know about it. Conservative voices are silenced on campus, but I guess Inside Higher Ed doesn’t know that. It took me all of 30 seconds to find it, and I bet I could find more by going to other conservative and religious sources…in other words, the people who’ve been silenced. The fact that the site I’m quoting from doesn’t know such sources even exist demonstrates how those sources have been snuffed as much as possible.

      While it’s being blown off as a non-issue, the comments section agrees with me that there might be something going on here:

Around two dozen states have passed some kind of legislation or issued executive orders requiring the respect of free speech on campuses. Ontario has done the same thing. So many public officials have seen a problem with the restriction of free speech on campuses. Obviously the rote assurances of education bureaucrats did not convince the states. There have been too many ugly campus incidents, with way too little serious response from administrations.

     If it’s a non-issue, why are various states and other countries thinking there’s a problem?

     Moreover, it’s very clear that at least in some (probably many) cases, admin supports the squelching of free speech. Time and again we see riots on campus, and the students involved in the riots, if not conservative, are approved. Meanwhile lone conservative students get punted off campus for violations which pale in comparison to violence.

      The poster above gets attacked for daring to support anything by Trump, even something so weak as this executive order, which at worst only tweaks the nose of our plundering leaders in higher ed.

Way to go out of your way to avoid the issue here, which is that whatever problems of free speech exist on campus Trump addressing them is planting a flag on Mount Hypocrisy.

     It saddens me to see such irrational thinking on a site supposedly for academics. Even if Trump kicking a troll off his own personal Twitter feed is a “violation of free speech,” even if we can ignore how Twitter regularly shuts down pundits and independent news organizations who say uncomfortable things…neither is relevant to the fact at hand, that free speech is very much in danger on many of our campuses, and that it doesn’t matter how much you hate Trump, we should probably appreciate that he did a tiny and nearly irrelevant something about it, rather than deny the problem.

      One comment pretty much wins the thread:

The pervasive 'bile for Trump' behavior now on full display is not lost on families of high-school juniors and seniors who are in process of making that crucial decision: Where will we invest the time, money and energy for a particular child's higher education?

This decision is not so much ideological as pragmatic: If University A is constantly embroiled in political controversies, athletics scandals, financial scandals, reports of violent behavior on campus--do we send our child there? My alma mater hits a number of those markers, thankfully not the violence reports, yet.

Until I see the tide turn, my wallet remains closed, and I steer all inquiries from other families around me to safer options.

     Our leaders in higher ed have turned many of our campuses into ideological indoctrination centers where, absolutely, free speech is discouraged. The leaders are thrilled at the lack of opposing views but, bottom line, are the students and parents of those students happy about it? For those students who have parents who care about their education, you better believe these schools are the ones losing the most enrollment, and for good reason.

     Get woke, go broke, is a catchphrase for a reason, after all.

     Now, Mr. President, can you amend this executive order so that student loan money can likewise be denied?


  1. Another great article, Professor. I am praying for you that your health will improve and that your readership will keep climbing. You are doing great work.

  2. In 1970, I had to flee Berkeley when I wrote a student editorial about the young Japanese motorcycle cop who was assassinated right in front of my home in Berkeley. The other students called me names and some said they would shoot me, too. So I packed my bags and left that leftist h..l hole.