Donald Trump talked about lower tuition and a dramatic student loan repayment plan Thursday at a rally in Ohio, but his loudest applause came when he promised to protect the right to free speech on campus.
“Do you want free speech?” the Republican presidential nominee asked the crowd of young people in Columbus. “You’ll have it.”
As the crowd cheered, he seemed to marvel at the reaction. “Wow. Wow. You like that more than the lower costs!”
Trump, who has gotten in trouble for his own comments — including a 2005 video in which he bragged about kissing and groping women, which has put his campaign in crisis — decried political correctness and derided the press in his message about protecting students’ rights to free speech.
Freedom expression debates have intensified on many campuses in the past year or two. Some students have asked for, or demanded, trigger warnings before professors raise sensitive topics such as rape, and have created “safe spaces” where they can gather to support one another and avoid speakers they find offensive.
During protests last year at the University of Missouri, for example, a professor tried to shield student activists from student journalists. At Emory University this spring, some students said they no longer felt safe after someone wrote Trump campaign slogans in chalk on campus.
People have debated where to draw the line between hate speech and protected speech, as well, with some pushing to have students expelled after making racist remarks, as has happened at several colleges recently.
Some university officials have pushed back, affirming the importance of academic freedom and debate. At the University of Chicago this fall, the dean of students made clear before students arrived on campus that they should expect a rigorous, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable exchange of ideas.