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Free speech zone

Education | President Trump orders colleges to follow the First Amendment
by Laura Edghill
Posted 3/27/19, 03:07 pm

President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday to promote free speech and the open exchange of ideas on college campuses. The president previewed the new policy earlier this month at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in suburban Washington, D.C., inviting University of California, Berkeley, student Hayden Williams to stand next to him at the podium. A passerby punched Williams in the face on the Berkeley campus in February while he was recruiting for Turning Point USA, a youth organization that advocates for conservative principles.

“Even as universities have received billions and billions of dollars from taxpayers, many have become increasingly hostile to free speech and to the First Amendment,” the president said at last week’s signing ceremony. “These universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity, and shut down the voices of great young Americans.”

The order requires public and private colleges to commit to protect free speech if they want access to more than $35 billion a year in federal research and educational grants. It is not yet clear how the federal government will oversee the rules or identify violations.

Some college officials bristled at the order.

“We do not need the federal government to mandate what already exists: our longstanding, unequivocal support for freedom of expression,” said University of California President Janet Napolitano, a former governor of Arizona and secretary of homeland security for President Barack Obama. “This executive order will only muddle policies surrounding free speech, while doing nothing to further the aim of the First Amendment.”

But supporters of the order argue university free speech policies aren’t working. They cite a growing list of incidents in which colleges and universities have disproportionately silenced or restricted conservative voices through event cancellations or persistent heckling and obstruction. Conservative authors and speakers Ann Coulter, Charles Murray, and Milo Yiannopoulos have all faced campus blockades in recent years. Political commentator Ben Shapiro’s 2017 appearance at Berkeley stoked so much controversy that police turned out for the event in full riot gear.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a campus free speech organization, said the executive order merely requires the nation’s colleges and universities to meet their existing obligations. But FIRE is watching closely to see whether politics will interfere with the enforcement of what should be a largely uncontroversial order.

“Whenever you politicize an issue, you have the risk that people are going to choose teams rather than choose principles,” FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley told me.

The executive order, titled “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” also addresses concerns about the rising cost of post-secondary education and the burden of student loan debt. It directs the U.S. Department of Education to provide more detailed financial information about colleges to potential students, including how much graduates earn and how they’re doing at paying back their student loans. The White House said it will disclose implementation details in a few months.

“We, like the universities, are in a wait-and-see mode,” said Shibley. “We’re trying to be hopeful that this will be executed in a fair manner.”

Facebook/Azusa Pacific University Facebook/Azusa Pacific University Azusa Pacific University

Azusa Pacific flip-flops

California’s Azusa Pacific University declared this week it would allow LGBT relationships on campus for the second time this school year.

The Christian liberal arts university’s policy first made headlines in August 2018 when officials removed a section from the student conduct rules that prohibited LGBT relationships. The revised policy allowed same-sex romances and displays of affection such as hand-holding but kept the requirement that students remain celibate outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.

The move drew criticism from university donors and prominent Christian leaders. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a WORLD board member, called it a “complete reversal and repudiation of the historic Christian understanding of what romance is to be as defined by Scripture.”

Within weeks, the Azusa Pacific Board of Trustees reinstated the old policy, saying that it never voted to remove it in the first place.

Student protests ensued, and LGBT advocacy groups urged campus officials to reconsider, saying the policy unfairly stigmatized LGBT people.

After months of heated debate, the board directed university officials last week to allow same-sex relationships once again. The university’s leadership justified the change by maintaining that Azusa Pacific is an open-enrollment institution with no requirement that students be Christian.

That seems at odds with the college’s stated goal of developing “disciples and scholars prepared to impact the world for Christ”—and its statement of faith, which contains a thorough and Biblically orthodox description of marriage as the union between one man and one woman, with sexual expression limited to that covenant relationship.

“Our values are unchanged, and the APU community remains unequivocally Biblical in our Christian evangelical identity,” Azusa Pacific Provost Mark Stanton said in a statement. —L.E.

Facebook/Meadowlawn Elementary Facebook/Meadowlawn Elementary The White County, Ind., Sheriff’s Department conducting training at Meadowlawn Elementary in Monticello, Ind.

A step too far?

Several Indiana teachers report they were injured by airsoft gun pellets during a recent active shooter training drill at their small-town elementary school. The White County Sheriff’s Department conducted the exercise at Meadowlawn Elementary School in Monticello, Ind., employing the low-power guns to simulate a real-life scenario.

“During active shooter drill, four teachers at a time were taken into a room, told to crouch down and were shot execution style with some sort of projectiles—resulting in injuries to the extent that welts appeared, and blood was drawn,” the Indiana State Teachers Association tweeted last week.

The union claims the drill went too far and is lobbying the state legislature for policy changes that would eliminate the practice. The sheriff’s department maintains the drill was voluntary and that teachers were briefed on what to expect.

School safety protocols across the nation have come under increased scrutiny in recent years as many schools struggle to find the appropriate level of sober preparation without unnecessarily frightening or harming students and staff. —L.E.

All too common

A poll conducted on the heels of a scandal in which prosecutors arrested wealthy parents for paying their children’s way into elite universities found a surprising number of people admit they would have done the same thing.

In a YouGov survey of 1,259 adults taken in mid-March, one-quarter of the respondents said they would pay off a college official if it could help their child gain admission. More than a third (34 percent) said they would pay a college prep organization to take a test on their child’s behalf. The respondents also expressed an underlying cynicism about the fairness of college admissions: About two-thirds agreed the U.S. education system is rigged in favor of the wealthy.

But it’s not all bad news. When asked whether or not they had ever actually cheated to get their child ahead, only 2 percent said they had done so. —L.E.

Devastating losses

The father of a Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre victim committed suicide on Monday, just days after two witnesses of the February 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., also took their lives. The recent deaths have spurred government officials, parents, and police to renew their commitment to local suicide prevention and mental health resources in the wake of the violent attacks.

Jeremy Richman, whose daughter was one of 20 first-graders who died in the Newtown, Conn., school shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, had visited Florida last week and met with parents of the Parkland victims. He was found dead Monday. Sydney Aiello, 18, a recent graduate of Stoneman Douglas, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and died of an apparent suicide on March 16. Stoneman Douglas sophomore Calvin Desir killed himself on Saturday.

Community leaders, parents, and police in Parkland, where 17 people died in the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at the high school, held an emergency meeting Sunday, calling on parents to talk to their children about suicidal thoughts.

“We cannot be afraid of talking,” said Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky. “The only way we are going to identify people who need help is to talk about it.” —Kiley Crossland

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Laura Edghill

Laura is an education correspondent for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and Northwestern University graduate and serves as the communications director for her church. Laura resides with her husband and three sons in Clinton Township, Mich. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Wed, 03/27/2019 06:58 pm

    “We do not need the federal government to mandate what already exists: our longstanding, unequivocal support for freedom of expression,” said Janet Napolitano.

    The rub lies in the definition of "free".  People are free to express liberal ideas.  Conservative ideas are deemed archaic, hurtful, harmful, hateful, and bigoted.  Disallowing those ideas in no way hinders the kind words of liberals as they break windows, overturn cars, burn buildings and cause mayhem and violence simply because a conservative is scheduled to speak.

    Posted: Mon, 04/01/2019 08:36 pm

    I wonder how many of the people rioting are actual college students or just hired to riot. They need to haul them away and detain them. Our courts have been taken over by judges who allow people to sue for anything. That is why people can block sidewalks and panhandle. The perps have sued and won. When will we get some judges who heed the laws. And some laws that limit lawsuits. This country has run amuk.

  •  Xion's picture
    Posted: Thu, 03/28/2019 03:32 pm

    Twitter announced it would like to add warning labels to Trump's tweets, because they violate Twitter policy against hate speech.  The said they would normally ban such tweets, but because he is president, they just want to add a disclaimer stating the tweets violate their policy, but are considered newsworthy.  Examples would be calling fake news what it is or calling liars what they are.

    Posted: Mon, 04/01/2019 08:44 pm

    It's pretty sad that Twitter, just like universities, has decided what is hate speech. People are spewing all kinds of hate against Trump, his family, his administration, and people who voted for Trump. But that isn't hate because.... ?   I'm at a loss for the why.   Ask someone, you hate Trump because...?  You hate his son because...?  You hate his wife because...? 

  • Hans's picture
    Posted: Fri, 03/29/2019 10:20 am

    The presumably unintentional irony of placing the second story right after the first is somewhat amusing. For my own part, I am not especially convinced that conservatives desire freedom of expression on principle, only that they desire freedom to be conservative. Evangelical universities are some of the most restrictive of the freedoms of their students among any in the nation. Just imagine the conservative outcry about “freedom” if Harvard or Yale did not allow the College Republicans to exist. They do allow them, of course. But try starting the college Democrats let alone an LGBT club at Liberty or BJU or PCC. 

    Posted: Mon, 04/01/2019 08:30 pm

    Re: California’s Azusa Pacific University

    It being in Cal. says something. (strike 1)

    They have probably been hiring liberal professors. (strike 2)

    Just like many of our churches who don't use the Bible as their guide. (strike 3)

    People do say the U.S. is not mentioned in the end times.

    Posted: Mon, 04/01/2019 09:02 pm

    Rich people getting their dumb children into college has been going on forever. They used to pay for a wing or a building or something. These guys must have hired the wrong people, as in can you say scam, or their children are really dumb and braggingly blabbed. 

    Universities need more money and rich people should be able to use their money to support them however they can get it. Otherwise some might be gone soon. Especially since we the taxpayers can support EVERY university with our taxes.

    I don't think the rich "cheater" parents should be sent to jail on taxpayer money. They should pay a huge fine to a college foundation for underprivileged students. And do lots of community service with underprivileged students in schools. Let the time fit the crime.

    The children of cheater parents probably won't even make it through college. And if they do, put the blame on their professors.

    Besides that, I heard about the ridiculous degrees being offered these days so I guess dumb and dumber could get one of those. 

  •  Paul B. Taylor's picture
    Paul B. Taylor
    Posted: Wed, 04/03/2019 10:14 pm

    Free speech among Christians at more liberal universities and colleges is not about stopping secularists or progressives who want their politics to be the "default setting" on American campuses.  Rather, it is about competing ideas between conservatives and liberals.  The choice of words, choosing to say secular and not liberal, subtly makes their politics more legitimate or valid.  Therefore, we should not say that they are secular, but rather liberal.