Trump Signs Executive Order On Free Speech For Student Conservatives

Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Jim Young – RC137851C180

Mason students respond to the executive order  

BY COLLIN COPE, STAFF WRITER

On Thursday, March 21, Donald Trump signed an executive order aimed at “requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research dollars.”

According to the White House, “we must encourage institutions to appropriately account for this bedrock principle in their administration of student life and to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding beneficial research and undermining learning.”

This executive order has been met with some support. According to Politico, Trump brought “Hayden Williams, a conservative activist who was punched in the face while recruiting on the UC Berkeley campus for the conservative youth group Turning Point USA,” onstage with him at his appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) earlier this month.

In addition, Kristan Hawkins, president of the nonprofit pro-life organization Students For Life of America, said “her group has met twice with Vice President Mike Pence to tell him about the times their activists have been shut down on college campuses.”

Given the very diverse community at Mason, an executive order such as this serves “no need,” according to Vice President of George Mason Democrats and Student Government President Elect Camden Layton.

“Why I really like Mason is we have an environment where you can express your views no matter what,” Layton stated. He continued, “We used to have a bunch of people out in Wilkins Plaza from anti-abortion groups, pro-choice groups. … Personally, I feel we have a very good environment where you can speak your mind.”

Layton added, “From what I’ve seen here, there really is no need to threaten taking away federal research funds from colleges who do apparently censor people’s freedom of speech. … I feel like it’s more of a PR stunt, because it was [presented] at CPAC, where it was targeted at conservative youth who might feel [they are censored], but I don’t think it was necessary, because I’ve never seen that happen.”

This executive order appears to focus on student conservatives who feel their views have been censored. However, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has shared that she feels “government muscle” would not solve the problem of free speech on campuses, stating that “a solution won’t come from defunding an institution of learning.”

Republican student David O’Connell stated that he had not felt his beliefs had been censored on campus.

“There are some colleges that do censor conservative thoughts more than Mason, but it’s not the president’s job to step in and handle that. It’s [each] college’s job.” O’Connell added, “It didn’t surprise me at all, because Trump feeds off of the culture war, and this is a very good example of [the] culture war on college campuses.”

On Mason’s political environment, student and College Republicans (CRs) member Ian Waite stated, “I think this university, though I would say the student body [leans more to the left], is very good at accommodating multiple viewpoints. … There are certainly colleges out there that have a problem, I think, with either censorship or just the general state of conservatism on campus … but I struggle when we jump to federal legislation to address any issue [of this kind] right off the bat. I don’t think that’s a conservative solution at all.”

Furthermore, Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander stated, “I do not want to see Congress or the president or the department of anything defining what a speech code should be or should not be, what you can say, or what you shouldn’t.”

The American Association of University Professors said it is “troubling that in his remarks the president sought to drive a wedge between students and faculty, casting his executive order as a ‘clear message to the professors’ that their funding was now at risk while also raising the specters of ‘political indoctrination’ and ‘coercion.’”

Students on campus may wonder what will come of this executive order in relation to Mason as well as campuses nationwide.

According to Layton, “I think nothing will happen, because our campus is such a diverse community [of] thought. We do have people from all over the spectrum, both extremes, who are able to share their voice and do so peacefully, so I don’t think it will really affect Mason at all.”

Waite later added, “this is just a show that Trump is putting on. I don’t necessarily think this is something we’re going to see enforced at any scale. This is just something to appeal to his base overall.”