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FAS Dean Gay Says Trump’s Free Speech Executive Order Poses No Threat to Harvard Funding

Claudine Gay
Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay.

Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Claudine Gay said she is not concerned about President Donald Trump’s recent executive order conditioning federal funds to universities on their free speech policies, calling it “unnecessary” in an interview Wednesday.

Gay said she has not heard concerns from faculty members about the March order, which aims to promote “free inquiry” on college campuses. Experts have said the order is ambiguous in its enforcement mechanism and may not have any practical effect for private universities, who set their own free speech policies.

“I feel that free speech is alive and well on our campus,” Gay said. “We’re deeply committed to that. It’s so core to who we are and to our mission.”

FAS adopted a set of free speech guidelines in 1990 which outline recommendations for protecting campus speakers who express controversial views. The guidelines note that FAS does not “permit censorship of noxious ideas” and lay out several recommended punishments for disrupting speakers.

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Though it is not fully clear how Trump will wield the order, Gay said she has “no concern” about losing federal funding because FAS abides by its policies “by the letter.”

“The idea of linking [free speech] to federal research funding seems completely unnecessary, and because it’s something that’s so central to our educational mission that there isn’t a universe in which we wouldn’t be taking steps to protect it and make sure it is alive and well on our campus, which I believe it is,” she said.

Gay also noted that faculty have turned to federal agencies for funding less and less in recent years, increasingly gaining support from “foundations” and “industry” for research projects. Though federal funding remains the largest source of awards overall at roughly 70 percent, the amount of non-federal funding FAS researchers received has increased steadily since 2012.

“I just think that will be a trend that will continue, and potentially could accelerate in a context in which there are declines in federal research support,” Gay said.

Experts have said the executive order — announced at a conference for the Conservative Political Action Committee — appeared to be a partisan maneuver designed specifically to support conservative college students.

A Government Department survey released in early 2019 found that 61 percent of self-identified conservatives in the department reported their work or study was “limited” in some capacity by their political views, compared to nine percent of self-identified liberals.

On Tuesday, Gay said she believes the faculty represent a variety of ideological views. A 2018 survey conducted by The Crimson found that 83 percent of faculty respondents identified themselves as “liberal” or “very liberal.”

“I continue to see our campus as one that not only encourages but embraces robust dialogue where we have the opportunity to be exposed to a broad range of perspectives, frankly on every issue,” she said.

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

—Staff writer Molly C. McCafferty can be reached at molly.mccafferty@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mollmccaff.

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