After left-wing protesters rioted and shut down Milo Yiannopoulos’ speech at UC-Berkeley, President Donald Trump took to Twitter and posed a question: “If U.C. Berkeley does not allow free speech and practices violence on innocent people with a different point of view – NO FEDERAL FUNDS?”
For one prominent scholar, Trump’s query deserves further discussion. Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, argues in The Federalist that it’s time to act on the lack of free speech on college campuses:
One telegraphic question does not a policy make, but it does raise a matter worth thinking about. For several years the nation has witnessed an accelerating decline in respect for and protection of intellectual freedom in higher education.
The accelerating decline, Wood writes, isn’t simply a result of the protests or disinvitations of campus speakers that garner headlines. It’s much more:
Beyond the disinvitations, protests, and now anarchist violence at Berkeley are deep and less visible layers of suppression of thought and speech. Declining to appoint faculty members who have failed the Left’s ideological litmus tests seldom can be captured by camera or headline. But such accumulated non-appointments by the tens of thousands has given us today’s all-leftism-all-the-time campus.
With this, Wood writes “the progressive left has captured higher education.” So what’s there to do about it? At the federal level, the scholar offers what he describes as “two potentially fruitful suggestions.”
The first invokes Congress:
Congressional action would take the form of a bill that would emphasize the importance of intellectual freedom at colleges and universities that receive public money. This would be a very hard bill to craft, especially in light of the skill with which the academic left typically inverts the purpose of legislation.
His second suggestion entails a “dear colleague” letter:
A “dear colleague” letter would emulate the form of Barack Obama’s action through the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, in which some thread of jurisdictional authority is traced to existing law to “advise” colleges and universities how that law would be interpreted.
Wood suggests he’s no fan of this second suggestion, but notes “it may be the only short-term tool President Trump has to cut funding for colleges and universities that suppress free speech.”
Amid the two suggestions, Wood notes there’s an easier solution. But it’s certainly a long shot:
A simpler solution would be for college presidents and trustees to uphold the principles on which their institutions were founded. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will happen. More likely they will wait to see what President Trump will do and then complain about it.