by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The nation’s largest piece of higher education legislation is up for renewal, but Republican leaders are preparing to push it through with practically no significant reforms in order to get Democrat votes. That includes not reducing the federal inflation of the student debt bubble nor demanding that publicly funded universities secure students’ constitutional free speech rights. Both are major national concerns.
Seventy-three percent of Americans, across political party affiliation, support free speech assurances on college campuses. Yet more than 90 percent of colleges “substantially restrict freedom of speech and association,” according to the National Association of Scholars (NAS).
The freedoms to speak and to associate with whomever one pleases are constitutionally guaranteed natural rights. Members of Congress take oaths to support and defend the Constitution in office. If they can’t or won’t do that, they should resign. First Amendment protections shouldn’t even be a question in discussions to reform the Higher Education Act (HEA), and they aren’t among the vast majority of Americans, but apparently they are on both sides of the aisle in Washington.
Several Senate offices, including his own, have made it clear that Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, is willing to trade away students’ constitutional rights in exchange for getting Democrats to pass any HEA bill in the House. That’s wrong, both morally and politically. If Alexander, a long-time politician and former U.S. education secretary who is retiring in 2020, wants to leave a legacy, it shouldn’t be a legacy of squandered reform opportunities.