Last week, President Trump issued an executive order that mandates colleges uphold free speech and foster an environment that promotes diverse debate or potentially lose federal research funds. The order will not immediately impact campuses, as the order directs public institutions to abide by the First Amendment and private institutions to follow their stated institutional policies on free inquiry.
The order represents the Trump Administration and larger media’s continued focus on free speech limits on campus. Here is what you should do now.
Recognize the focus on free speech on campus is not going to change
The rise of campus activism continues to bring political issues to campus. Free speech is in the spotlight due to continued media scrutiny and debate on how this issue extends to different political groups on campus. Regardless of their stated policies and actions to protect free speech, colleges and universities will face continuing public pressure to protect and promote opportunities for free expression, especially around controversial issues.
Communicate institutional expectations with students, faculty and staff
The executive order will draw considerable media attention that will seek to highlight incidents when free expression on campus is challenged. Campus leaders must communicate that the institution remains committed to supporting free expression and inquiry. Campuses should openly communicate free speech policies and expectations about who speaks for the university on such issues.
Develop clear policies for campus response to controversial events
Regardless of the impact of the executive order on campus free speech policies, students and outside actors will continue to bring controversial topics to campus. Decentralized communication structures can hinder information sharing about potentially divisive events and speakers. Make it easy for administrators to elevate risks through proactive risk briefings and a ready-to-deploy response action-planning template when stakeholders identify a potentially controversial event.
How to support free speech on campus
Download the Addressing Campus Climate Flashpoints executive briefing to explore the five ways you can identify climate risks, prepare for developing incidents, and institutionalize responses.