House Education & Workforce Committee
Opening Statement by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Chairwoman, Committee on Education and the Workforce Hearing on “Examining First Amendment Rights on Campus.”
Good morning, and welcome to today’s hearing. I thank our panel of witnesses and our members for being here today as we talk about freedom of expression on college campuses and how postsecondary institutions are and are not respecting individuals’ First Amendment rights.
Here at the Education and Workforce Committee, we talk a lot about the importance of all education. Education has the power to change lives, and every form of instruction that focuses on developing a student’s skills is valuable, whether that skill is physical or intellectual.
We’ve focused on the skills gap, and the skills gap is a major reason we have more than six million open jobs in this country. But there’s one skill that I believe is one of the most sought-after skills in the workplace and in the classroom, and that skill is critical thinking.
All of education, but especially postsecondary institutions, have a duty to develop students’ problem-solving skills. By encouraging students to engage in civil discourse and challenge their own perceptions, they sharpen their analytical skills so that they are prepared to lead the workforce once they graduate. But many institutions are taking deliberate steps to curb speech, and are thus extinguishing students’ critical thinking at a vital stage in their professional — yes, professional — development.
University campuses should function as a marketplace of ideas for students to exchange knowledge and share their varied and distinctive viewpoints. When freedom of thought, expression, and association are stifled on campus, the basic rights of students and staff are irreparably undermined.
This is not a partisan issue. In a Gallup-Knight survey of students published earlier this year, every single demographic favored an open learning environment that permits what may be deemed as offensive speech by some over a campus environment that puts limits on speech deemed offensive. Furthermore, the majority of respondents reported they feel that speech is being stifled on campus.
So why are some institutions placing limits on freedom of expression? There has been no shortage of news stories about some speakers being turned away from college campuses, informal censorship occurring in classrooms, and the meteoric rise of the heckler’s veto. As a result, postsecondary institutions are functioning more and more like ideological echo chambers devoid of diverse thought.
We have seen the creation of so-called safe spaces at some campuses where students can feel “safe” from speech that upsets them. Conversely, we have seen the development of free speech zones and other schemes designed to limit free expression and shield students from ideas and concepts they may find uncomfortable or challenging.
The Bill of Rights affirms certain unalienable rights, chief among them the freedom of speech. The First Amendment sets the United States apart from other nations, and our incredible individual liberties are the envy of people across the world. The freedom of thought and expression are the cornerstone of our democracy, and it is crucial that we safeguard this power and privilege.
In the Gallup-Knight poll I referenced, the majority of college students (64 percent) still view their First Amendment rights as secure. However, that number has fallen by almost 10 points from 73 percent in the previous year’s survey. As the postsecondary landscape continues to evolve, it’s important that we take a close and hard look at how students’ rights and freedoms are upheld on campus and at the role of the First Amendment in postsecondary education.
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Opening Statement of Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), Chairman, Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development on “On-the-Job: Rebuilding the Workforce through Apprenticeships.”
Good morning, and welcome to today’s subcommittee hearing. I would like to thank members of the subcommittee and our witnesses for joining us today as we examine ways in which we can continue to strengthen our national workforce development efforts and help more Americans get the skills they need to land in-demand jobs.
In the last several years, we have seen an economic boom take place under Republican leadership in Congress and the White House. The job market is strong and unemployment is at near-historic lows. In fact, employers need more people to work for them. In May of this year, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) issued a report that for the first time in BLS’ history, the number of job openings in the United States exceeded the number of job seekers nationwide.
I have seen this firsthand in Kentucky’s Second District. This August, I visited construction sites, factories, shipping facilities, and more businesses throughout my congressional district, and the one thing I heard from all of them is how they need more skilled workers. These are good jobs that some people unfortunately are missing out on because they don’t have the necessary skills.
In a 2018 survey from the ManpowerGroup, 46 percent of employers in the United States reported that they struggle to hire employees with the necessary skills for the job, and for the 6th year in a row, skilled trade jobs are the hardest positions to fill across the globe.
The American workforce is presently facing a shortage of over six million skilled workers, and we need approaches at both the public and private levels to successfully bridge this skills gap.
When I grew up, my dad and many of the people in our town worked for the local Ford factory. Back then, if you got a job with Ford, you entered a pipeline that taught you necessary skills as you moved up the ladder. Sadly, many factories that provided that kind of job security have shut down – including the one in my hometown. We must find other ways to bridge the skills gap.
In 2014, after years of hard work from the Education and Workforce Committee, the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) was signed into law. WIOA made significant progress rebuilding our national workforce development system by promoting employer-led innovation in and access to work-based learning experiences like on-the-job education and apprenticeship programs.
By strengthening on-the-job technical education and apprenticeship programs, we can streamline the connection between education and the workforce and encourage more Americans to pursue in-demand jobs, improving their own earning potential and the national workforce as a whole.
I want to continue this progress we made in WIOA with a renewed focus on apprenticeships. That’s why I worked with my colleague, Ranking Member Susan Davis, to establish the Apprenticeship Caucus. We held our first event earlier this summer, where we brought a wide range of representatives together to talk about how Congress can support these programs. We also introduced the APPRENTICE Act, which would establish a grant program to expand apprenticeship programs.
I look forward to continuing the conversation about apprenticeships at today’s hearing. I am pleased to welcome today’s witnesses and I look forward to hearing their testimony as we discuss innovative ways we can develop our workforce and help more Americans learn valuable skills on the job.
To view the PDF version, click here.
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