STUDY: Majority of college students hostile to free speech

Anthony Gockowski
Investigative Reporter

  • A new study released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) confirms what many have long believed: college students don’t respect the First Amendment.
  • The survey of more than 1,000 college students found that 56% support disinviting controversial speakers, while a 48% plurality believe that "hate speech" is not constitutionally protected.
  • While liberal students were far more likely to support censorship than their conservative peers, conservative students reported a much greater degree of self-censorship on campus and in the classroom.
  • A new study released by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) confirms what many have long believed: college students don’t respect the First Amendment.

    According to the survey, which FIRE calls “the most comprehensive survey on students’ attitudes about free speech to date,” a majority of college students self-censor during classroom discussions and support the disinvitation of controversial speakers, while a plurality even believe that hate speech is not constitutionally protected.

    "There is clearly a partisan divide in how students perceive free speech on college campuses."   

    [RELATED: FIRE ranks 10 worst schools for free speech]

    FIRE, with the help of nonpartisan research firm YouGov, surveyed 1,250 undergraduates between May 25 and June 8, finding that 48 percent of respondents think that hate speech should not be protected by the First Amendment, including 13 percent who associate hate speech with violence, while only 46 percent recognize that it is.

    Meanwhile, 56 percent of those surveyed support disinviting certain speakers, with Democratic students responding affirmatively 19 percentage points more often than their Republican peers.

    Notably, FIRE found that students who identified as “very liberal” were 14 percentage points more likely to express feeling comfortable sharing their opinions in class than were conservative respondents, though 54 percent of all students admitted to self-censoring in class at some point throughout their college careers, and 29 percent said they have even self-censored on campus outside of the classroom.

    Along partisan lines, Republican students (60 percent) were far more likely to believe that they should not have to encounter protests on campus, compared to just 28 percent of Democrats.

    [RELATED: College prez asks Congress to censor ‘hate speech’ on Facebook]

    Of those surveyed by FIRE, 58 percent find being part of an inclusive community, which entails not being exposed to offensive ideas, an important part of their college careers.

    “There is clearly a partisan divide in how students perceive free speech on college campuses,” FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley commented on the findings. “This further solidifies the importance of FIRE’s mission. Free expression is too important to become a partisan issue in higher education.”

    FIRE’s full survey can be found here.

    Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AGockowski





    Anthony Gockowski

    Anthony Gockowski

    Investigative Reporter

    Anthony Gockowski is an Investigative Reporter for Campus Reform. He has previously worked for The Daily Caller, Intercollegiate Review, and The Catholic Spirit.

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