The Higher Education Act Must Protect Free Speech

Rachelle Peterson

Editor's note: this article was originally published by The Hill on April 22, 2019.

President Trump has taken an important step to protect intellectual freedom on college campuses. His executive order, “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” issued last month, requires federal agencies to “ensure” that colleges and universities protect free inquiry before receiving federal research grants. And early polling suggests a strong majority of Americans — nearly three-quarters — support his leadership to protect free speech on campus.

Now it’s time to look to the Higher Education Act (HEA), the main federal law that governs colleges and universities. The HEA is a key opportunity to refocus higher education on what should be its main priority: protecting the intellectual freedom that permits students and professors to seek the truth, wherever it leads.

That’s why today more than 100 professors, scholars and representatives of civic and academic organizations—including my own, the National Association of Scholars — issued a statement calling on Congress to do just that.

We note that in the past two years, colleges and universities have seen nearly 50 attempts to disinvite speakers. More than 120 college and university policies earned a “red light” rating from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) — meaning that they clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.

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