In one of the latest incidents in the ongoing national conversation regarding free speech in higher education — or what some perceive to be a lack thereof — a recent executive order aims to combat this issue financially. The order, signed in March by President Donald Trump, requires federal agencies to link certain federal funds for higher education with institutions that promote “free inquiry” on their campuses. At Harvard, Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay recently stated she and the faculty more broadly are unconcerned with any potential effects on the University. Free speech, she said, is “alive and well” on our campus. We wholeheartedly support her response.
Trump’s history of provocative and prevaricating political statements, which are not always backed up by concrete action, leads us to be highly skeptical of this executive order. Primarily, the action appears to be highly partisan. The executive order was initially announced at the Conservative Political Action Conference with rhetoric that plays into a societal trend of pitting conservatives against “rigid, far-left ideology” along the lines of free speech. But it should also be noted that this is not the first time Trump has threatened the removal of funds from higher education. He did so in 2017. No action was taken then.
The language of the executive order itself — as noted by multiple legal scholars — is vague and ambiguous, and, depending on its enforcement, may potentially be unconstitutional. Attempts to solicit a better understanding of the order from administrative officials have met with little clarification.
Our Board has proudly supported free speech and its expression on Harvard’s campus and others in the past, and our sentiment now is as it was then: Not all speakers are equally worth hearing, but all have the right to be heard. Any infringement upon free speech, however offensive, is a threat to our democratic principles and values.
For the most part, our campus has not experienced the extreme and occasionally violent actions seen at some other universities in regards to free speech and student activism. However, in light of recent instances of student protests across campus — which now includes vandalism and peaceful civil disobedience — we hope the University thinks critically about the way it engages with student voices, seeking solutions that respect a variety of different opinions across the ideological spectrum.
Perhaps most of all, we encourage our fellow students to continue to have the confidence and wherewithal to express their voices and opinions, even when power dynamics may be skewed against them. There are many issues on our campus and within higher education that need meaningful and constructive responses. By speaking our minds with courage, we shine the way toward truth, transparency, and progress.
This staff editorial solely represents the majority view of The Crimson Editorial Board. It is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.