How Trump’s executive order on campus free speech could affect colleges

How Trump’s executive order on campus free speech could affect colleges

August 24, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs


JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a question playing out
on college campuses across the country. When it comes to free speech, are conservative
students held to a different standard than their liberal counterparts? Amna Nawaz begins our coverage. AMNA NAWAZ: With a stroke of the pen, President
Trump issued an ultimatum to U.S. colleges. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
Universities that want taxpayer dollars should promote free speech, not silence free speech. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) AMNA NAWAZ: The executive order signed today
requires colleges to certify that their policies support free speech as a condition to receiving
federal research grants. It doesn’t affect schools’ access to federal
financial aid for student tuition. President Trump first proposed the idea to
a gathering of conservatives in Washington earlier this month. DONALD TRUMP: We believe in free speech, including
online and including on campus. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) AMNA NAWAZ: He brought on stage conservative
activist Hayden Williams. DONALD TRUMP: If they want our dollars — and
we give it to them by the billions — they have got to allow people like Hayden and many
other great young people, and old people, to speak. AMNA NAWAZ: In February, Williams was recruiting
on U.C. Berkeley’s campus when he got into an altercation
with this man, who then punched Williams in the face. That man was arrested and charged with assault,
and the university condemned the attack. Williams spoke to the “NewsHour” while in
Washington earlier this month. HAYDEN WILLIAMS, Conservative Activist: I
think there’s a culture on college campuses that sort of promotes one side over the other. And, you know, conservatives are the minority
on college campuses across the country. AMNA NAWAZ: But the incident reignited the
campus free speech debate, with a focus on conservative voices. In 2017, U.C. Berkeley saw a series of protests after conservative
voices, some controversial, like Milo Yiannopoulos, Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro, scheduled campus
events. Many of the events were either postponed or
canceled. That October, U.C. system president Janet
Napolitano told MSNBC, free speech is an essential part of its core principles. JANET NAPOLITANO, Former U.S. Secretary of
Homeland Security: I think that we have to do a much better job of educating our young
people about what the First Amendment protects, what it means, and how once you start restricting
speech, you are on a slippery slope. And so we are educators, and that should be
part of our mission. AMNA NAWAZ: Even some in the president’s own
Cabinet, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, have argued against federal intervention. BETSY DEVOS, U.S. Education Secretary: The
way to remedy this threat to intellectual freedom on campuses is not accomplished with
government muscle. A solution won’t come from defunding an institution
of learning or merely getting the words of a campus policy exactly right. AMNA NAWAZ: Today, the Trump administration
says it will be holding universities to that mission. Officials say implementation details will
be out in the coming months. Let’s further explore the state of free speech
on college campuses with Jerry Falwell Jr. He’s the president of Liberty University,
and was at the White House today as President Trump signed this executive order. And Sanford Ungar, he’s the director of the
Free Speech Project at Georgetown University and the president emeritus of Goucher College. Welcome to you both. Thank you for being here. SANFORD UNGAR, Georgetown University: Thank
you. JERRY FALWELL JR., President, Liberty University:
Thank you so much. AMNA NAWAZ: Sandy, I want to start with you. At your project, you and your team document
incidents of free speech being restricted. You wrote an opinion piece, there’s an epidemic
of challenges to free and open expression. Do you support what the president did today? SANFORD UNGAR: I do not think what the president
did today has any particular meaning at all, Amna. We, at our Free Speech Project at Georgetown,
are examining incidents where free expression is challenged around the country in several
different categories. We have got more than 200 of them now on our
online tracker. And what we find is that speech is challenged
across the political spectrum. This image, the stereotype, the cliche that
it’s primarily noble conservative thought that is being challenged by crazy fanatical
liberal students and professors just doesn’t bear out. The facts don’t support it. It’s been — there are many instances where
conservative speech is challenged, and they get a lot of attention. Some of the people that were in your piece
are well-known. They go — they expect disruption. They encourage disruption. And they get it. But a lot of the disruption of other kinds
of speech, mainstream speech, factual speech, liberal speech on campuses, is — it’s disrupted,
and it doesn’t attract the same kind of attention, doesn’t have the sort of lobbying force behind
it. So I don’t think the president — I would
like to believe that the president wants to protect all speech on campus. AMNA NAWAZ: Jerry Falwell Jr., I’m going to
ask you about that now, because you’re speaking from a conservative perspective here. Do you think conservative voices are not supported? Are they banned more? JERRY FALWELL JR.: I think former New York
City — Mike Bloomberg, in his commencement speech at Harvard a few years ago, said it
best, when he said, the faculty and staff at Ivy League schools, 96 percent of them
donated to the Obama campaign. And so it can’t be argued that the vast majority
of faculty and staff at most major elitist universities are one-sided in their viewpoints,
and it’s the liberal side. And so how that translates into whether or
not they allow free speech, you hear examples all the time of how conservative ideas are
just not given the same respect that liberal ideas are given. AMNA NAWAZ: Well, we hear examples all the
time, but you heard what Sandy just had to say. Is it — are we just talking about them more
because they get more attention? JERRY FALWELL JR.: I just don’t see how 96
percent are one-sided, and could be fair. SANFORD UNGAR: I’m not sure that’s a meaningful
statistic. And, besides, what is the remedy if you have
a lot of professors on campuses sympathetic with Democrats or giving to Democratic causes? What — first of all, I’m not sure… (CROSSTALK) JERRY FALWELL JR.: Well, Mayor Bloomberg was
just… (CROSSTALK) SANFORD UNGAR: I understand. Well, whether it’s Mayor Bloomberg or anyone
else, I don’t know — he has no special credibility on this matter. How would you suggest… (CROSSTALK) AMNA NAWAZ: Well, let me ask you this, if
you don’t mind. Jerry Falwell Jr., let me ask you this. JERRY FALWELL JR.: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: In the president’s expression
today, the idea is that all free speech will be protected. Do you believe that everyone should be granted
a platform on university platforms? JERRY FALWELL JR.: Yes. Tomorrow, Alan Dershowitz is our speaker for
our convocation. We have two a week for 10,000 students that
attend that particular event. And he — he’s just one example. Jimmy Carter was our commencement speaker. Bernie Sanders spoke at Liberty. He was given the utmost of respect by the
students, even if most students didn’t agree with him. SANFORD UNGAR: That’s the way it ought to
be. There ought to be ideological diversity on
campus. JERRY FALWELL JR.: Sure. SANFORD UNGAR: When I was president of a small
liberal arts college in Baltimore, I made it a point to invite speakers from across
the political spectrum. And, of course we should do that. And I don’t favor shouting down any speakers. But my point is just that there is not just
a problem on one side. If you listen to it with both ears open and
both — and you watch it with both eyes open, there’s a problem across the political spectrum. (CROSSTALK) AMNA NAWAZ: Let me put this question to you. Let me put this question to, Sandy, if you
don’t mind. It’s true that conservative students are an
ideological minority on most university campuses. SANFORD UNGAR: That’s probably true, yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Is it incumbent upon university
systems to then make sure the rights of that minority, including free speech, are protected? SANFORD UNGAR: Of course. Oh, of course we should protect the free speech
rights of all students on campuses. I think we deal too much, though, in stereotypes
and cliches. First of all, I don’t think all of us, students,
faculty, staff, citizens should be compelled to reveal whether we’re on one side or the
other. It’s much more complicated than that. And I think students — when you have discussions
with students — I teach now at two universities. And when you have conversations with students,
you discover that their views are not so easily pigeonholed, when you spend meaningful time
with them. Everyone comes to college with a different
understanding of just what free speech means, and with very individual impressions. And I think it’s ridiculous to try to categorize,
well, what percentage? How do we find that out? Do we take a survey? AMNA NAWAZ: Let me ask you about that idea
of free speech. A lot of this is definition, right? The argument being that when free speech goes
into hate speech or discriminatory speech, that that should not be given a platform. For example, a lot of the ideas that may be
held by some conservative speakers who’ve been shouted down before are bigoted towards
gay Americans or trans Americans or Americans of other faiths. JERRY FALWELL JR.: That’s why there’s a First
Amendment. Who decides what’s hate speech and what’s
not? I mean, and when you have 96 percent of one
persuasion making that decision, then it’s going to come down lopsided all the time. AMNA NAWAZ: You go back — just again, but
as someone who’s in charge of seeing who gets a platform and who doesn’t, where do you draw
the line? JERRY FALWELL JR.: We invite a lot of liberal
speakers who won’t come, because they know that Liberty is a conservative school. You don’t have to be a conservative to attend
Liberty, just like you don’t have to be a liberal to attend Harvard. SANFORD UNGAR: What do you think that the
— well, of course not. I mean, I teach at Harvard, and students are
not categorizable like that. Certainly, in my seminars on free speech at
Harvard, I would say there’s no way to predict the political — these are students. (CROSSTALK) JERRY FALWELL JR.: Students, a lot of them
haven’t developed their political ideology yet. SANFORD UNGAR: Well, and that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing. JERRY FALWELL JR.: Because I know, when I
was in college, I was worried about what job I was going to get, who I was going to marry,
everything except politics. The older guys with the ties were the ones
that made the decisions anyway. So… AMNA NAWAZ: So, now you’re one of the older
guys with the ties. JERRY FALWELL JR.: That’s right. AMNA NAWAZ: Let me ask this of both of you
then. As the person who makes some of these decisions,
how do you enforce something like this? Where’s the line between free speech and something
that could be potentially dangerous to some of your student body? JERRY FALWELL JR.: Well, the executive order
curbs research dollars to universities who don’t permit free speech. And I don’t know how you define that and how
you police it. But I think the bigger problem is the federal
student loan issue. And that’s what was discussed today. I think the president is going to go a step
further very soon and is going to try to single out the bad actors who have gone out of business,
who have not given their students the education they promised. You see, before 2010, it was guaranteed student
loans. The private lenders were making the loans. The government was guaranteeing it. So the private lenders were making the profit. Then the government took over. Since they were guaranteeing it anyway, I
think they should have been — they should have been taken it over. AMNA NAWAZ: You think by the president tying
this to financial means in some way, it has a sense of urgency to it? (CROSSTALK) JERRY FALWELL JR.: The government should earn
the interest and income. (CROSSTALK) AMNA NAWAZ: We don’t have much more than a
minute left. I want to make sure we can get into this. You can go ahead. (CROSSTALK) SANFORD UNGAR: One of the president’s claims
is that universities that don’t respect free speech in his terms — we don’t know what
terms those are — who will decide? Who will make the list, whether it will be
him staying up late at night or some other process than that? That people will be denied research funds. And my only fear about this — I think, in
general, the executive order won’t have much effect. But my worry is that, ultimately, important
cancer research could be defunded because somebody offends Milo Yiannopoulos, who the
president supports. (CROSSTALK) AMNA NAWAZ: We have got 30 seconds left. Do you share that concern? Do you share that concern? JERRY FALWELL JR.: Colleges don’t operate
like businesses. We operate like a business. Our students leave with $6,000 less debt than
the national average. SANFORD UNGAR: But that’s not… JERRY FALWELL JR.: And so there’s — we have
a lower — our default rate is lower than the national average. The elite schools don’t want to operate like
businesses. AMNA NAWAZ: Setting aside the finances for
a moment, though, we’re here to talk about free speech. Are you concerned that overpolicing that language
could lead to other things happening at universities? JERRY FALWELL JR.: I think just allowing free
speech. You don’t police… (CROSSTALK) SANFORD UNGAR: Well, sure, but the president
is threatening research funding. He has said it. He has used that term. I would like more definition of, what are
the grounds for cutting off important research, patriotic research, research to keep Americans
safe, healthy, secure for the future? Because a speaker was shouted down at a campus? (CROSSTALK) JERRY FALWELL JR.: A speaker was disinvited
because… (CROSSTALK) SANFORD UNGAR: And that would be a reason
to cut off the research? JERRY FALWELL JR.: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: And this debate is surely going
to continue. Gentlemen, we’re going to have to leave it
there. But I thank you both very much for being here. JERRY FALWELL JR.: Thank you. AMNA NAWAZ: Jerry Falwell Jr., Sanford Ungar,
thank you. SANFORD UNGAR: Thank you.