March 21, 2019

On the ‘free inquiry’ executive order

Earlier today, President Trump issued an executive order calling on federal agencies to “take appropriate steps, in a manner consistent with applicable law, including the First Amendment, to ensure institutions that receive Federal research or education grants promote free inquiry, including through compliance with all applicable Federal laws, regulations, and policies.”

At Stanford we have had a longstanding commitment to freedom of expression. Universities must foster environments that promote open campus discussion. The rigorous debate of diverse ideas is critical to the ability of universities to contribute to society through education and research. Furthermore, beyond our bedrock commitment, a state law in California known as the Leonard Law prevents private universities from disciplining students for speech that is protected by the First Amendment.

It is not yet clear exactly what today’s executive order, which is high-level in nature, will mean when put into practice by individual federal agencies. Based on what we know so far, we would not anticipate changes to our existing policies at Stanford. As the federal government contemplates taking “appropriate steps” to ensure colleges and universities “promote free inquiry,” we would caution against any steps that may have negative unintended consequences for the shared objective of preserving freedom of expression.