Trump’s newly-signed executive order on college free speech responds to a real and profound problem.
The thuggish intolerance and ideological one-sidedness in academia cannot be overstated. Student enforcers punish deviation from identity victimology through shaming and aggression. All but the bravest dissenters stay silent, lest their heresies be anonymously reported to a bias response team and subjected to correction. The diversity bureaucracy and its faculty and administrative allies encourage students to believe that they are at existential threat from circumambient racism and sexism, defined as insufficiently conformist speech. This supposed threat is wholly fictional, yet it is being used as grounds for silencing alternative points of view.
The university’s attacks on due process and on the norms of rational discourse threaten the very possibility of a civil society. Yet Trump’s executive order may create as many difficulties as it would solve. The order commands 12 federal agencies, from the Department of Defense to the EPA, to ensure that academic recipients of federal largesse “promote free inquiry” or risk losing their federal grants. Promoting free inquiry is an affirmative duty that on its face goes beyond protecting free speech. Unless we are to regard this language as boilerplate, the federal agencies will have to define what satisfies the duty to promote free inquiry and what constitutes its violation. The Education Department’s recently proposed regulation on campus rape tribunals drew on a well-established body of jurisprudence defining the fundamentals of due process. There is nothing comparable for the concept of promoting free inquiry.
Heather Mac Donald is the Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, contributing editor at City Journal, and the author of the bestselling War on Cops and The Diversity Delusion (available now). Follow her on Twitter here.
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