AAU, ACE, and 24 other higher education organizations submitted comments to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about the Education Department’s notice of proposed rulemaking on “free inquiry,” regulatory changes that would implement Executive Order 13864, Improving Free Inquiry, Transparency and Accountability at Colleges and Universities. Under the proposed rule, the department’s research and education grant funding would be conditioned on adherence to the First Amendment for public institutions, and compliance with a private institution’s own stated speech policies. This does not include Title IV funding. A final, non-default judgment by a state or federal court would be the “trigger” that allows the department to suspend or end the institution’s grant award.
The comments reaffirm our institutions’ continued commitment to preserving the free and open exchange of ideas and information on campuses, and enumerate AAU’s many serious concerns with the rule. Among other problematic consequences, the rule could prompt a flood of litigation, including meritless lawsuits. The negative effects of the rule would compound if 11 other agencies, as directed by the Executive Order, adopt the department’s model. The comments also urge to department to extend the comment period for this notice of proposed rulemaking by an additional 30 days.