Senate Dems Block Sullivan Amendment to Protect Free Speech on College Campuses

WASHINGTON—The U.S. Senate today failed to pass, by a vote of 51 to 49, an amendment offered by Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) to S.1260, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, a bill to commit tens of billions of dollars to bolstering U.S. leadership in emerging technology and innovation. Sullivan’s amendment would have required America’s colleges and universities that receive federal funding from the bill to submit letters, once a year to the National Science Foundation, stating their commitment to the First Amendment of the Constitution, freedom of speech, religious liberty, viewpoint diversity, non-discrimination, and the free exchange of ideas on campuses. 


Mr. President, for decades, even centuries, America's universities have been the envy of the world and one of America's biggest comparative advantages. At their best they are hubs for innovative thinking, places where free exchange of ideas is not only encouraged, but expected on campus. They have been the backbones of innovations that have changed countless lives in America, and really across the world, for the better.  

Now, of course, freedom of speech is enshrined in the First Amendment of our Constitution. The birth of our nation was the result of our Founding Fathers escaping tyranny in pursuit of freedom of thought and expression. Since the inception of our country, we have prevailed over every country and empire that we have competed with, in part, because of America's commitment to the free exchange of ideas. Our universities have traditionally amplified this long-standing American ideal and comparative advantage. 

But, unfortunately, Mr. President, this is changing. Today it is becoming increasingly clear that many of our universities too often stamp out the exchange of ideas for certain politically-correct narratives. This is having a chilling effect on our students, on campus and most importantly, on their ability to express themselves. 

Let me present some disturbing findings. A recent Gallup survey of 3,000 undergraduate students found that 81% of students widely support a campus environment where they are exposed to all types of speech, even speech they find offensive. However, that same survey found that only 59% of college students believe that free speech rights are secure, and that's down from 73% just four years ago. Mr. President, that same survey also found that 63% of university students in America agree that the climate on their campus deters students from expressing themselves openly. Almost two-thirds of American students. It's remarkable. It's dangerous. Not just for university life, but for American life, and I believe it's unacceptable. 

Fortunately we can do something about it with the simple amendment that I have offered today. This bill that we're debating right now, the Endless Frontiers Act, will be sending tens of billions of dollars, taxpayer dollars, to America's universities. My amendment says in return for these billions of dollars, when applying for National Science Foundation funds, universities will be required to attest that they are protecting free speech, religious liberty, and prohibiting discrimination on campus, and explain what steps they are taking to ensure compliance. That's it. A letter to the NSF once a year for billions in federal research dollars. 

Now, Mr. President, already we're hearing that some universities oppose my amendment, calling it ‘burdensome.’ Well, here it is. It's two pages. It's simple. It's easy. This university opposition actually illustrates the problem. That in exchange for billions of dollars in federal research money, America's universities can't be bothered to demonstrate to Congress and the American people, that they are committed to the principles of the First Amendment—which, by the way, have made our country and our universities so exceptional.  

Mr. President, censorship, oppression, and one-sided thought are characteristics of communist China, not America, and certainly should not be the characteristics of America's great universities. To the contrary. One of the most important ways to compete with, and win against communist China is to ensure that America, and, yes, our universities, remain what they have traditionally been: laboratories of free expression, free thought, creativity, innovation, and ingenuity. 

My simple amendment will help make sure this happens. I encourage all of my colleagues to vote ‘yes’ to support this amendment and American free liberty, free thinking, and innovation. 

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