President Trump recently signed an executive order directing federal agencies to link funding for higher education to how universities enforce “free inquiry” on campus. This order was motivated by the claim that professors have endeavored to prevent conservatives from challenging the ideology of the far-left. At this time, the details of how the order will be implemented are lacking.
Since I am often cast as a lefty, it would be expected that I oppose this order. However, I will not be arguing this matter from a leftist perspective. Rather, I will advance arguments enshrined in classic conservative principles in opposition to this order.
One key principle professed by conservatives is the idea of small government. This principle is supposed to manifest in opposition to unnecessary laws, in opposition to government overreach, and in support of local governance. This executive order clearly violates this principle.
First, the order is utterly unnecessary as a means of protecting free speech on college campuses. While some universities have endeavored to keep controversial conservatives and speakers like Richard Spencer off their campuses, the existing free speech laws have sufficed to thwart these efforts. In the case of Richard Spencer, the University of Florida had to let him speak on campus (and the state paid for the security). In the case of public institutions, the first amendment protections apply—thus making it clear that the executive order is attempting to order what already exists: legally protected free expression.
It might be objected that private universities that receive public money would still be free to exclude people from speaking on campus. The easy and obvious conservative reply is that these private universities are private. So, like any private business, they have no legal obligation to provide avenues for free speech. There are, of course, some exceptions—but these are covered by existing laws.
Second, the order is a case of government overreach that seems to be aimed at picking winners and losers in the realm of inquiry. Conservatives profess an opposition to such interference in the free marketplace of ideas, so the state coming down in support of one side (in this case, explicitly going after the allegedly leftist professors) should be anathema to them. Even if, in this case, Trump purports to be putting the might of the state on their side and against those they disagree with.
It might be objected that the order is aimed at making life fair and using the compulsive power of the state to create ideological diversity on campuses. But conservatives have long argued that life is not fair and that the compulsive power of the state should not be used to serve an agenda of diversity. Principled conservatives would not embrace this big government approach—even if it purports to be in their favor.
Third, this order goes against the core conservative principle of local governance. Conservatives have often argued for state and local rights when it comes to making decisions. This order places the federal government over state and local control, making such decisions in faraway Washington, D.C. While a conservative would certainly favor more conservative expression on campuses, to jam this down the throats of the people and to sweep aside states’ rights would be an unacceptable means of doing so.
Conservatives also make a point of being for fiscal responsibility and profess opposition to government bloat. While the order itself comes with no cost, the actual enforcement will require a significant bureaucracy. One obvious analogy is that of Title IX. This law prohibits discrimination based on sex by educational programs receiving federal funding and resulted in the growth of bureaucracy in the federal government and on campuses. If Trump’s executive order is going to have any teeth at all, it will need a similar bureaucracy in place. It will also need a set of standards for sorting out what counts as violating “free inquiry” in all the relevant contexts on campus ranging from the classroom to speaker invitations.
While I am not familiar with the inner workings of the federal government, I am familiar with how universities operate. This order must generate a demand for data on compliance, which means the creation of an office on each campus to gather and report this data as well multiple committees. The office will require administrators and staff. In the case of state institutions, this will require more taxpayer money to fund. In the case of private institutions, they will need to increase tuition. While these costs will not be extreme, they will add even more to the rising cost of education.
Thus, while a conservative would rightfully rejoice at having more conservative thought on campuses, doing this by means of the federal government would be a violation of conservative principles. As such, conservatives should oppose this executive order on conservative grounds.
I often perceive the left’s version of “Conservative Arguments” as somewhat distorted; they are often learned not by actually going to the sources but by reading about them in their own left-leaning publications. It often surprises me that people have such a distorted view of conservatism until I read those same left-leaning publications like the NY Times, the Washington Post – and listen to MSNBC and the likes of Rachel Maddow, or CNN and listen to legal analysts like Mark Geragos …
So I suppose that in the way you understand Conservatism, you have some valid points.
I think you’re correct, that Trump’s executive order doesn’t really have “teeth”, in that there is no way of implementing it, but I think that’s actually by design. I don’t think it was really meant to be anything more than a shot across the bow of certain blatant offenders. It’s one thing to allow liberal thought to grow naturally on college campuses, it’s yet another to actively repress one ideology from an administrative point of view.
I suppose that your biggest argument is against what you think might happen, rather than what is actually happening – in other words, you are imagining some great bureaucracy put in place to monitor speech on college campuses and make life fair, but I don’t think that’s the point at all. I guess we’ll both see.
“One key principle professed by conservatives is the idea of small government. This principle is supposed to manifest in opposition to unnecessary laws, in opposition to government overreach, and in support of local governance. This executive order clearly violates this principle.
Actually, what violates this principle at a somewhat higher level is government funding of colleges in the first place. What’s at stake is some $35 billion in grant money – so it’s not really the government actively coming down with some kind of “Free Speech Police Force”, threatening to jail anyone who is not in compliance, but rather, very simply, saying, “If you cannot uphold basic Constitutional rights, then you have no right to government money”.
It’s more than cases like universities endeavoring to keep controversial conservatives and speakers like Richard Spencer off their campuses. There is a rising tide of anti-White, anti-Conservative ideology being tolerated on campuses that has resulted in an alarming increase in assaults against Conservatives – both verbal and physical – as in the case of the brutal attack of a conservative activist on the UC Berkeley campus in February.
College professors came out in droves after the State of the Union address recently, in a twitter-storm that Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at U of Maryland called “Carnage Porn”, tweeting a photoshopped image depicting Trump pointing a gun at the Statue of Liberty’s head.
A Princeton University African American Studies professor called “every standing ovation a cheer for racism and hatred”, and tweeted that “The SOTU is officially a KLAN rally”.
A professor at Fresno State sparked a national furor when she called Barbara Bush “a generous and smart and amazing racist who, along with her husband, raised a war criminal. Fuck outta here with your nice words”.
A George town professor went on a profanity-laced tirade on Twitter against Brett Kavanaugh, said that white Republican senators (naming a few who defended Kavanaugh), “deserve miserable deaths”. She said that the living should “castrate their corpses and feed them to swine”.
The President-elect of the United States takes an oath before assuming office:
“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States
To me, this is part of his duty as president. To me, he is really doing little more than putting these people on notice – and it’s not that difficult for the government to be a little more picky in the awarding of federal grants. There is no law that says this money has to be awarded, is there? (I could be wrong on that point).
But given Trump’s style, this is very much in keeping with other things he has done. Do you think that tariffs against China were intended to be permanent? Of course not. Has he brought in the troops? Of course not.
He has hit them where it hurts – simply saying, “Shape up, or don’t expect any more money from us …”
“Conservatives also make a point of being for fiscal responsibility and profess opposition to government bloat. While the order itself comes with no cost, the actual enforcement will require a significant bureaucracy.
Doubt it. How much bureaucracy does it take to not award a grant? Seems like that would actually be saving money …
this order goes against the core conservative principle of local governance.
Well, that shows how little you know about conservatism, and exposes the fact that what you do know is limited by the rather narrow scope of your reading material. While you are correct in that “local governance” is a core principle, it is not an absolute one. Throughout the entire history of this country, the biggest ideological struggle every year, every election, every decade, and every century, is in attempting to find the balance between local governance and central control. While it’s fine for a state like Vermont to elect a Socialist governor, and it’s fine for him to run his state as a socialist – it starts to get a little dicey when state government begins to trump federal law by establishing Sanctuary Cities in violation of federal immigration law. The balance is being tested further as state after state begin to legalize marijuana – but in neither the Sanctuary City example or the state marijuana statutes can there be federal funding attached to those political developments.
In this case, however, it’s not anywhere close to a controversial law. It’s not a state challenging federal law by standing up to a federal statute with which they disagree – a line in the sand in an attempt to overturn the federal law.
At least I hope not – because it’s the very Constitution these institutions are violating, and it is the obligation of not only the President, but every Representative and Senator in this government, by virtue of his or her oath of office to defend that Constitution. And I think the shot across the bow, the withholding of funds, the “we have our eye on you” is a perfect place to start.
As a white, male, conservative academic, I can tell you that I absolutely feel this bias, this blatant bigotry, and the tacit approval from the administration. And I can tell you that despite the fact that I have tenure, I do fear for my job. There are others like me – and when our department chairs and administrators make comments similar to the ones above, we know that to stand up and argue against them is futile – it is our right, to be sure, and that right is “protected”, but there are ways of retaliation that fly under the radar, and ensure that voices like mine are silenced.
One of my colleagues expressed it well –
“College campuses are no longer about the free exchange of ideas; they are about a singular ideology and are controlled by the HR department, not academic thought”.
I daresay you do not feel any of this – you are probably completely unaware that it is likely happening right there on your campus – but this groundswell of micro-aggressions has grown into outright hatred and repression of thought.
In an earlier post, I said that I think it’s tragic that an executive order like this is necessary, but I think it is. Dennis Prager, a talk show host who will appear in a documentary called “No Safe Spaces” agrees –
“It’s tragic that in the one country that was founded on liberty–the country that enshrined freedom of speech in its foundational document–this executive order has become necessary. But, thanks to the left, it has. If President Trump can put a stop to the intolerance of non-leftist viewpoints on college campuses and help steer the country in the right direction, there just might be hope.”
“Conservative commentators such as Ann Coulter and Ben Shapiro have faced hostile atmospheres when trying to speak at universities — particularly Berkeley, where Coulter was forced to pull out of speaking and Shapiro faced protests that required police in full riot gear and intense security measures.” (Adam Shaw/Fox News).
Is it OK that we live in a country where our most fundamental right must be protected by police in riot gear?
I think that to tell these people to “go ahead and say what you want, but you can do it on your own dime” is a pretty good way to go.
And we’ll see if any government bloat arises. I seriously doubt it will, but if it does, we can revisit this conversation.
A point of clarification – in citing the instances of the declarations and public statements of professors at various institutions, I am not advocating that they be silenced – that would be just as egregious a violation of the Constitution as the silencing of Conservative voices.
Rather, it is that tacit approval on the part of universities that that is the supported ideology, and that comments like that are becoming more mainstream – leading to the oppression, repression, and violence against the opposition.
Once again, at the risk of illustrating Godwin’s Law, I will say that this kind of speech is not much different than the kind levied against the Jews in Europe in the 1930’s. The Constitution does defend it – but only to a point. When it begins to incite hatred, violence and a systemic policy of tolerance for one side and intolerance for another, that is something that needs some kind of action. It’s a very slippery slope indeed – but decidedly un Constitutional.
Trump is hardly conservative–after all, he was a Democrat for most of his life. Trump is basically a liberal from the 1980s. Here is what Democrats used to believe:
Everyone should be judged as an individual. To see someone as a representative of a group is to stereotype him.
People have a right to privacy, which means that what they do in their personal lives isn’t relevant to their public and work lives.
Free speech is the basis of a free society.
Journalists should act as nonpartisan watchdogs monitoring the halls of power.
Western civilization is the story of freedom and equality spreading to more and more people in the world.
The United States is a city on a hill.
Scientific findings should be examined on apolitical grounds of validity and method.
One must accept the results of fair elections.
The best art transcends politics.
We must stand up for the working man.
It’s what the suckers used to believe. Their faith in the fairy tale that socialism, and thus government control, thus the opposite of the meaning of the word “liberal”, was not the ultimate goal of a significantly large faction of the D party was naive in the face of Ds going soft on communism. All the signs were there. But were anyone to point it out, the D’s allies in the media and academia would drown them in a sea of mockery. Much of which persists today. The megaphone has a huge impact in the voting booth.
I can’t speak for conservatives, especially American conservatives. The Political Compass survey puts me just a couple of pixels left of centre, and a fair ways down the Libertarian axis. And I don’t know anything about being Inside Academia.
However, I think that consevatives and libertarians both recognise that everything the government does is harmful. It can also be good; the trick is making the good outweigh the harm.
And so, while this order is harmful, we have to ask the balance question: how much harm for how much good? Pointing out that the order goes against conservative principles is fair, but not recognising that those principles aren’t and can’t be absolute is straw-manning.
My completely uninformed first intuition is that the harm may outweigh the good in this case, but I don’t even know what the implementation is going to look like – and so far as I have read, neither does anyone else. Perhaps the policymakers who came up with it have a plan, but without understanding what that might be, I am wary. Not least, I am wary of the precedent it sets for future administrations. So far, Trump has reined in the massive expansion of power that Obama brought to the bureaucracy and presidency; this is a change – admittedly small when compared with the Obama years, and compared with the Obama movement on Title IX, tiny, but not in the right direction.
When we see how the specifics shake out, possibly in the form of guidance letters or formal policies, we will know more.