Scholars Call for Free Speech Protections in the Higher Education Act

National Association of Scholars

NEW YORK, NY -- Public colleges and universities that violate the First Amendment should lose eligibility for Title IV federal student loans and grants, say more than 100 scholars and writers in a new statement, released today by the National Association of Scholars (NAS). The statement also calls for private colleges and universities to make their speech and association policies fully transparent.

The statement, “Free to Speak: Reforming the Higher Education Act,” urges Congress to add free speech protections to the Higher Education Act (HEA), which is due for reauthorization. The HEA currently includes a statement on the importance of free speech, setting forth the “sense of Congress” that “an institution of higher education should facilitate the free and open exchange of ideas.” But this language lacks an enforcement mechanism, and has had little effect on the behavior of colleges and universities. 

“We are at a tipping point in the history of intellectual freedom,” said NAS President Peter Wood. “Higher education has traditionally been set aside as the place where students and professors can seek the truth and model the civic deliberation that makes a free society possible. But increasingly, college administrators seek to fence out ideas they disagree with, and cage free expression into narrow—and misnamed—safe spaces. Congress has a duty to protect the fundamental freedoms of thought, speech, and association.”

“Free speech is what makes higher education worth pursuing,” said NAS Policy Director Rachelle Peterson. “Unfortunately, this Congress has fixated on affordability and access as the key problems in higher education. But higher education without free speech isn’t a good investment—no matter how low the cost.”

The statement describes President Trump’s executive order, “Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency, and Accountability at Colleges and Universities,” as “a crucial first step toward restoring intellectual freedom to college campuses.” It also notes that a bipartisan majority—73 percent—of the country supports the executive order on free speech.

“Americans of all backgrounds understand that free speech is a fundamental right,” said Rachelle Peterson. “It’s time for Congress to build upon the President’s executive order by ceasing to subsidize unlawful free speech violations by colleges and universities.”

Additional signatories are welcome to sign their names here.

NAS is a network of scholars and citizens united by a commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education. Membership in NAS is open to all who share a commitment to these broad principles. NAS publishes a journal and has state and regional affiliates. Visit NAS at


For more information, please call Rachelle Peterson at 917-551-6770 or email [email protected].

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