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UC community skeptical of Trump’s executive order for free speech

President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 21 requiring United States colleges to protect students’ right to free speech. Colleges that fail to comply would risk losing access to up to $35 million in federal research funding, he said.
(Daily Bruin file photo)

By Haya Fakhoury

April 17, 2019 12:40 am

A recent executive order that aims to enforce the protection of free speech on college campuses may not largely impact public universities, members of the University of California community said.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order March 21 requiring United States colleges to protect students’ right to free speech. Colleges that fail to comply would risk losing access to up to $35 million in federal research funding, he said.

Trump said in a speech announcing the executive order that universities receive billions of dollars from taxpayers, but that he thinks many universities have become increasingly hostile toward free speech and the First Amendment.

Eugene Volokh, a distinguished UCLA law professor, said this executive order may have more of an effect on private universities, as free speech on public campuses is already significantly protected.

“Free speech at UCLA is already pretty protected in part because it is a public campus, but (the executive order) might have a much broader effect on private universities where there currently is no First Amendment protection and in most states no other kinds of protection as well,” he said.

Janet Napolitano, University of California president, said in a statement that freedom of speech already exists on college campuses and does not require further protections from the government.

“We do not need the federal government to mandate what already exists: our long-standing, unequivocal support for freedom of expression,” Napolitano said. “This executive order will only muddle policies surrounding free speech, while doing nothing to further the aim of the First Amendment.”

John Abughattas, a fourth-year philosophy student and member of the advocacy group Students for Justice in Palestine, said he does not think the order is going to have much of an impact on the operations of any club on campus.

“It seems (to be) more of a symbolic thing of the Trump administration,” he said.

Abughattas said he thinks this order simply aims to limit speech the Trump administration disagrees with.

“He makes it seem like pro-Trump speech is what is being attacked and harassed on campuses,” he said.

He added he thinks the Trump administration pursued this executive order for their own benefit rather than for the importance of free speech itself.

“Coming from the Trump administration, this is pretty hypocritical,” he said. “They are trying to push for legislation that prohibits people from supporting boycotts and sanction movement in foreign policy and human rights that really is just a matter of tampering down speech that the Trump administration disagrees with.”

However, Abughattas said he thinks his free speech and his club’s free speech rights have been limited by the UCLA administration.

“We definitely feel that we were pushed back by the administration when we were trying to host the national SJP conference back in the fall,” he said. “It went as far as UCLA sending us a cease-and-desist letter for having UCLA on our flyer and having a bear – not the Bruin bear, just a bear – on our flyer, trying to prevent us from using it as advertisement.”

UCLA administrators sent National Students for Justice in Palestine a cease-and-desist letter October 31, 2018 regarding the use of the logo to promote the group’s upcoming national conference, which was held November 16 to November 18.

UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said in November 2018 that the university wanted to be consistent in its enforcement of the use of its logo and other marks.

Trump said the enforcement of this order will be left to federal agencies that award funding to universities. However, policies regarding how free speech on college campuses will be monitored and what type of violations could trigger a loss of funding have not been specified.

Volokh said it is up to members of Trump’s cabinet to make the policies and determine how they will be enforced, so it is still unclear what effects the executive order will have.

“What exactly this executive order will (do), we do not know until the specific policies are created,” Volokh said.

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Haya Fakhoury
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