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  • Miles Getler

Free Speech Executive Order sparks national debate at colleges

On March 21, President Trump signed an executive order that promotes free speech on college campuses. In his speech to the press and the conservative political action committee, Trump said that federal funding for universities will be dependent on student’s having free speech at their universities.

Trump will block federal funding to universities that have strict free speech policies.

“People who are confident in their beliefs, do not censor others,” said the president in a statement that was published in a recent Washington Post article.

This has prompted national debate among universities across the country.

According to the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education (FIRE), Coastal Carolina University is a “yellow light institution.” This means that Coastal has policies ‘which restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.’

Coastal Carolina’s free speech and solicitation policy states that “[Coastal] is dedicated to constitutional principles of free expression, free assembly, and the right to petition the government of grievances.’’

The university’s policy also states that “distribution of non-University sponsored literature or products by CCU staff and students on University property in working areas is prohibited.”

While most public institutions receive state funding, the collective public, private, and for-profit colleges and universities receive federal funding. According to data from the National Science Foundation, public and private universities were given $40 billion for research.

Aaron Walters, a junior at Coastal Carolina, understands the difficulties that come with free speech.

“Personally, I really do care about free will,” said Walters. “But I can understand where people feel uneasy saying things that might offend others.”

Walters weighed in on recent executive order signed by President Trump and how there are better ways to talk about the issues that matter to us than resorting to violence.

“I definitely don’t want to have limitations on free speech. It’s our constitutional right to speak how we like to,” said Walters. “Yes, I think people should be able to share their political views, and stand up for what they believe in. However, violence and threats draw the line, you can speak your mind but have to keep your cool. The best alternative to fighting is communication.”

Peter Paquette, Dean of Students at Coastal Carolina University, doesn’t think that the executive order will change an already existing policy at numerous universities.

“The order does little beyond reinforce what is already law in the United States,” said Paquette. “I don’t think freedom of expression should go away, it is a cornerstone of our democracy. I can’t imagine any attempts to alter the First Amendment altogether, nor should a University make policies that supersedes rights granted to all U.S citizens.”

This executive order comes into play after nearly two years of protests sprouting across college campus, most notably the protests at the University of California at Berkley in 2017. And while Coastal has not experienced the large-scale protests that institutions like UC-Berkley and the University of Florida have experienced, Paquette had this to say about the safety of the student body and members of the CCU community.

“The impact of utilizing free speech does not offer members of a University community the right to say or do as they wish without repercussion,” said Paquette. “If someone uses their right to free speech to harm or threaten another individual or the community, they will be held accountable.”

In 2013, Emory University created the committee for open expression, (CFOE) and the open observers program, which affirms Emory’s commitment to free expression, and uses “open expression observers”, or university staff volunteers who let students safely share their opinions and makes sure no harm comes to them.

In 2016, there were protests at Emory University over the controversial appearance of conservative commentator Milo Yiannopoulos. Because of rising tensions and threat of violent protests, the committee for open expression cancelled the event.

While more students and faculty will discuss their concerns of free speech, it will be up to the institutions to change policies on free speech or keep the ones that are already in place.

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