March 5, 2019

Ben-Porath: Trump’s campus free speech executive order would be a blunt tool against the wrong question

In a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, President Donald Trump pledged to sign an executive order that he said would protect free speech on college campuses. If schools didn’t “support free speech,” Trump said he would bar them from receiving federal research funds.

Penn GSE’s Sigal Ben-Porath found Trump’s proposal troubling.

“I worry that this is a blunt tool against…the wrong question,” Ben-Porath told The Washington Post.

Ben-Porath is an expert on the role education plays in cultivating civic engagement in a democratic society. Her latest book, Free Speech on Campus, examines free-speech controversies both inside and outside the college classroom, shifting the focus away from disputes about legality and harm and toward democracy and inclusion.

Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Ben-Porath said college leaders know they have work to do to make everyone — including conservative students and minorities — feel they have an equal ability to express themselves. But, she said, there is no free speech crisis on American campuses. However, she says, Trump could create one with his order:

“Try to envision what this process would look like. The government would like to make sure that a certain campus is abiding by its vision of free speech. How will that be verified? Who will decide which campus is acting properly, and what will their criteria be? Will there be a direct reporting system to the government? This effort can quickly slide from an effort to defend the First Amendment into thought-police territory.”

Read Ben-Porath’s Inquirer op-ed here.

Read the full Post piece here.