WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday cited a 2017 incident at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as an example of conservatives facing censorship on America’s college campuses.
Trump spoke in the East Room before signing an executive order aimed at protecting freedom of speech at universities.
“If a college or university doesn’t allow you to speak, we will not give them money,” Trump said, with many of the students in the room applauding.
Trump invited several of the students to speak, including Kaitlyn Mullen. The UNL student had set up a recruiting table on campus for the conservative group Turning Point USA when she was confronted by various people, including a graduate student lecturer who flipped her off.
“Kaitlyn was approached by staff and a graduate instructor and was berated and cursed at,” Trump said in introducing her.
Mullen stepped to the microphone and said that it’s common for students on the nation’s campuses to be silenced.
“So I’m really thankful that President Trump is addressing this issue, because as the future of America, it’s important that our universities are a place where we can speak freely and have healthy, respectful dialogue on campus,” Mullen said. “So thank you so much President Trump for doing this. No other student should have to go through what I went through on campus.”
The graduate student lecturer who flipped off Mullen was removed from her teaching duties, with the university citing concern for her and her students’ safety.
Asked for comment about Thursday’s White House event, UNL spokeswoman Leslie Reed offered a brief statement.
“We feel good about our policies, which support freedom of speech,” Reed said.
Trump’s executive order directs 12 agencies that make federal grants, in coordination with the Office of Management and Budget, to ensure that colleges are complying with the law and their own policies to promote free inquiry and debate.
It does not tie student-aid money to the order.
Trump’s announcement earlier this month that he would make federal funding for universities contingent on assurances of free speech elicited cheers and applause at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting.
But it also prompted questions, including who would define and judge free speech, and what type of federal funding could be withheld — research dollars, student aid or both.
Many people following the issue closely said they were relieved that the order does not designate or create an agency to police speech on campus.
And many continued to ask questions, saying they won’t know the real impact of the order until they see how it is implemented.
This report includes material from the Washington Post.