Owens Sends Letter to Secretary Cardona Over Harassment of Riley Gaines

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Rep. Burgess Owens (UT-04) joined 12 Educaution and the Workforce Committee colleagues on a letter to Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, raising major questions about what the Department is doing to protect free speech and intellectual discourse on college campuses following the harassment of former collegiate swimmer Riley Gaines at San Francisco State University.

In the letter, the Members write: “We are appalled at the treatment swimmer Riley Gaines received on April 6, 2023, as an invited speaker at San Francisco State University (‘SFSU’) – a recipient of approximately $58 million in federal education funds over the preceding 12 months. Ms. Gaines’ reception at SFSU was aggressive and violent, unbefitting any institution of higher learning, let alone one that receives federal funding.”

The Members continue: “The Department of Education (‘Department’) has been strangely silent about SFSU’s lack of adequate safety preparation, and more broadly it has failed to demonstrate any leadership on the free exchange of ideas on campuses. In fact, the tenor of the Department’s Federal Register notice of February 22, 2023, (‘Request for Information Regarding First Amendment and Free Inquiry Related Grant Conditions’) appears to imply the Department is contemplating taking away free speech protections that are not only guaranteed by the Constitution but are conditions attached to the receipt of grants by institutions of higher education. Further, the increasing proliferation of cancel culture in American postsecondary education continues to chill the ability of students, faculty, and guest speakers to express their viewpoints. Yet, the Department seems unfazed.”

The members conclude by questioning the specific steps the Department has taken to uphold protected speech on the campuses of colleges and universities:

  • What has the Department done to encourage colleges and universities to ensure the safety of invited speakers?
  • What has the Department done to encourage the full range of intellectual discourse and viewpoints at public colleges and universities?

To read the full letter, click here.

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