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Trump set to sign executive order on campus free speech

POLITICO logo POLITICO 3/20/2019 By Michael Stratford
Betsy DeVos et al. sitting at a table with a cake: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she doesn’t believe “government muscle” should be used to address campus free speech issues. © AP Photo Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she doesn’t believe “government muscle” should be used to address campus free speech issues.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order on Thursday that addresses campus free speech as well as other higher education issues, according to several sources familiar with the White House’s plans.

Trump said earlier this month he would issue an executive order “requiring colleges and universities to support free speech if they want federal research dollars.”

But it’s not clear how the policy set to be unveiled on Thursday would work. Trump, who previously threatened to withdraw federal funding to the University of California, Berkeley, has said he wants "very costly" penalties for schools that don’t “support free speech.” At the CPAC speech where he mentioned the executive order, he brought to the stage 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.

Among those invited to the White House event Thursday at 3 p.m. in the Rose Garden is Kristan Hawkins, who is the president of Students for Life of America. Hawkins 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.

“Probably no other campus group has had more free speech issues than the pro-life movement,” Hawkins told POLITICO. “I’m really excited for the spotlight that’s finally being shed on this issue.”

While Republicans have widely criticized colleges and universities for stifling free speech rights on campuses, some conservatives have also cautioned against new creating new federal restrictions.

"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," Senate HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander said in September.

Similarly, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said she doesn’t believe “government muscle” should be used to address campus free speech issues. “A solution won’t come from defunding an institution of learning,” she said last fall.

White House officials for months have signaled their plans to craft an executive order on higher education.

Apart from campus free speech, the order on Thursday is expected to include other issues, including a push for student outcome data broken down by academic programs at colleges and universities, according to people familiar with the plan.

DeVos previously announced a plan for the Education Department to detail program-level outcomes, such as graduates’ median debt and median earnings, for all colleges and universities.

The executive order comes just a few days after White House adviser Ivanka Trump released the Trump administration’s priorities for reauthorizing the Higher Education Act.

Benjamin Wermund and Kimberly Hefling contributed to this report.

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