Schirin Rangnick

Though President Donald Trump recently signed an executive order seeking to “promote free and open debate on college and university campuses,” many University students interviewed by the News said free speech on Yale’s campus was never threatened in the first place.

The executive order, which Trump signed last Thursday, defends the first amendment’s protection of free discourse. Asserting “free inquiry” as fundamental to the nation’s democracy, Trump’s order threatens to pull federal funding from institutions that do not adequately “promote free inquiry.” When announcing the executive order, Trump said that the $35 billion in federal funding to universities “is now at stake.” It remains unclear how the order will be enforced and what standards will be used to judge how well the universities promote free speech.

In recent years, Yale has often found itself in the midst of alleged violations of free speech on campus. But most current students interviewed by the News said that they do not believe their right to free expression at Yale is under threat.

“I certainly don’t think free speech at Yale is threatened,” said Yale Political Union Vice President Krish Desai ’21. “Sometimes we might err on one side or the other while determining the balance between allowing individuals to express divergent opinions and ensuring that people don’t feel uncomfortable, but I’d argue that this is a natural process in any student body.”

Desai added that a “partisan targeted executive order” is not the answer to improving this dynamic, but rather it could be better solved by “having students [with] differing viewpoints engage with each other in a sincere and charitable fashion.”

Eli Sabin ’22, communications director for the Yale College Democrats — who noted that his comments were his own thoughts and not a statement from the group — said that Yale does not suffer from “a free speech crisis.” Although he said he knows that some conservative students on campus feel that their speech is being restricted, Sabin said that this is not an issue the federal government should get involved in.

“The Trump administration most likely drew up this executive order because they know it will play well with the conservative base, who are constantly told by right-wing media personalities like Ben Shapiro and Sean Hannity that colleges are bastions of intolerance and anti-conservative discrimination,” Sabin said.

Yale College Democrats President Timothy White ’20 said that the order is an example of the Trump administration overreaching for the sake of a “fabricated issue.”

White said that a “‘free speech crisis” is predicated on the “false assumption” that “freedom of speech is the same as freedom from consequences [of free expression].”

“When a speaker whose ideology … causes harm to marginalized people comes to speak on a campus, and they are challenged or their event is protested, it is not a restriction on freedom of speech but rather a consequence of their speech,” he said.

Still, Carson Macik ’22, a member of the Federalist Party, said that he believes that the order is “profoundly needed.”

He said that the political culture at Yale “discourages diversity of viewpoints among students and faculty, and generally ostracizes conservative activists working to promote said diversity.”

“Yale, as an institution, does not explicitly ban conservative speech, but it’s death by a thousand paper cuts,” Macik said. “I recognize that Yale, due to its private nature, is not required to uphold free speech, but it should follow in the footsteps of UChicago and liberate the voices of all students regardless of opinion.”

In January 2015, the University of Chicago published the so-called “Chicago principles” arguing that “it is not the proper role of the University to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable or even deeply offensive.” In a letter to students accepted to the Class of 2020 in 2016, the University of Chicago College Dean John Ellison also wrote that the university does not “support so-called ‘trigger warnings’” and that the university would not “cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial.”

Macik said that a “prominent tell in determining the intention behind the University’s speech policies” is its “support or implicit rejection of conservative students, faculty and administrators.” He added that Trump’s order is not partisan and “in no way affects certain groups,” but rather affects those who disenfranchise free speech, which in this case “happens to come from the Left’s radical morality enforcement team, an overwhelming number of which dwell in educational institutions.”

Looking beyond the motivations for the order, several students said they doubted the order would be effective in achieving its goal.

Yale Political Union President Elliot Setzer ’20 said that the vague wording of the order “seems more likely to [curtail] campus free speech than to support it.” He said that tying federal research grant money to free speech could cause universities to limit students’ rights to protest campus speakers for fear of losing funding.

Desai also doubted the effectiveness of the order, saying that it is clearly a “direct attack at left-leaning institutions” that could act as a useful partisan tool in the upcoming election, but the vagueness of the order would probably prevent any concrete enforcement.

Yale President Peter Salovey emphasized the importance of free discourse telling the News last week that the University’s position on freedom of speech is “clear and unwavering.”

“It is essential to Yale as an intellectual community, and we expect all members of the Yale community to abide by the University’s long-standing policies that protect freedom of expression,” he wrote in an email to the News. “Free speech is vitally important at Yale, whether it’s conservative, liberal or otherwise.”

During his presidency, Trump has signed 101 executive orders.

Skakel McCooey | skakel.mccooey@yale.edu 

Asha Prihar | asha.prihar@yale.edu

  • Killer Marmot

    “Sometimes we might err on one side or the other while determining the balance between allowing individuals to express divergent opinions and ensuring that people don’t feel uncomfortable”

    Well there’s your problem. Since when is it ANYONE’s job to find such a balance? People’s right to free speech trumps other people’s right to feel comfortable. Full stop.

  • Nancy Morris

    Free speech at Yale was never threatened in the first place? How deluded is that?

    Consider the recent article: “I Thought I Could Be A Christian And Constitutionalist At Yale Law School. I Was Wrong.”

    “Federalist Society invited a speaker who argued Masterpiece Cakeshop on behalf of the Christian baker. The response was predictable:

    “The first condemnation was from Outlaws, the law school’s LGBTQ group. They attacked the Federalist Society for inviting ADF to campus and called for a boycott of the event. Over the next 24 hours, almost every student group jumped onto the bandwagon and joined the boycott.

    “The emails were a veritable alphabet soup of identity groups, including: APALSA (Asian Pacific American Law Students Association); BLSA (Black Law Students Association); SALSA (South Asian Law Students Association); LLSA (Latinx Law Students Association); MLSA (Muslim Law Students Association); MENALSA (Middle Eastern and North African Law Students Association); and JLSA (Jewish Law Students Association).

    “NALSA (Native American Law Students Association) said ADF employees were not welcome on their “ancestral lands.” The Yale Law Women, Yale Law Student Alliance for Reproductive Justice, and the Women of Color Collective joined, as did the American Constitution Society, the Yale Law Democrats, and the First Generation Professionals.

    “In addition to the boycott, some students said people who supported ADF’s position should no longer be admitted to the law school.”

    It is true that the Yale ADMINISTRATION and most of its FACULTY do not threaten free speech, and, indeed, take great care to secure it. But as this article lays out, free speech at Yale is very much under THREAT, and some of its students and student organizations are main sources of that threat.

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    Second time I am sending this.

    Don’t censor me lol

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    Third time I am sending this.

    It is ironic that I am being censored in a free speech article. Please this is a reasonable text. I am simply asking a question.

  • Robo

    What a bunch of BS.

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    Fourth time I am sending this.

    It is ironic that I am being censored in a free speech article. Please this is a reasonable text. I am simply asking a question.

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    fifth time I am sending this.

    It is ironic that I am being censored in a free speech article. Please this is a reasonable text. I am simply asking a question.

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    Third time I am sending this.

    It is ironic that I am being censored in a free speech article. Please this is a reasonable text. I am simply asking a question.

  • CarlHarmonica

    To be honest, this reads as an under-handed journalistic work. The
    report overly represents people who deem the Executive order to be
    “over-reaching.” Only one student is presented as a supporter of the
    Executive order. It also seems that there’s a delusion on this campus
    that freedom of speech should be concerned about not making students
    uncomfortable. This is preposterous! Yale is supposed to be a space of
    intellectualism, where you face challenges from people with opposing
    views (yes, those views can make you uncomfortable), and draw your own. I
    am very curious to find out how many students support the Executive
    order. If the YDN is curious too, it should send out a survey!

    Sixth time I am sending this.

    It is ironic that I am being censored in a free speech article. Please this is a reasonable text. I am simply asking a question.

  • ShadrachSmith

    Free speech is bad because Trump says it’s good.

    Critical thinking at Yale.