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New Survey Exposes Threats to Free Speech on Campus

On Monday, Yale University’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program released a national survey measuring U.S. college students’ attitudes towards free speech on campus. The results were troubling.

The 2015 Buckley Free Speech Survey, which was conducted by pollster McLaughlin & Associates, sheds light on how students view topics including the First Amendment, intellectual diversity, academic freedom, campus speech codes, political correctness, and trigger warnings.

At first glance, some of the findings seem to bode well for campus free speech. For example, 95 percent of the 800 college students surveyed said that campus free speech is important to them, and almost nine in ten (87 percent) agreed that there is educational value in listening to and understanding views and opinions that they may disagree with and are different from their own.

However, upon closer examination, the survey reveals some alarming insights into the anti-free speech mentality on college campuses today. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Nearly one-third (32 percent) of students could not identify the First Amendment as the constitutional amendment that deals with free speech. 33 percent of those who correctly identified the First Amendment said that the First Amendment does not protect hate speech.
  • More than half (51 percent) of students are in favor of their college or university having speech codes to regulate speech for students and faculty.
  • 72 percent of students said they support disciplinary action against “any student or faculty member on campus who uses language that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive.”
  • 49 percent of students said they have often felt intimidated to share beliefs that differ from their professors, and exactly half (50 percent) said they have often felt intimidated to share beliefs that differ from their classmates.
  • 55 percent of students said they are aware of “trigger warnings,” and 76 percent of these students favor their professors using them.
  • By a 52 to 42 percent margin, students believe that their institution should forbid people from speaking on campus who have a history of engaging in hate speech.

While these results are disconcerting, they are not surprising. Indeed, they illustrate many of the campus behaviors FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff and best-selling author and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt recently critiqued in their cover story for The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind.”

You can check out the full results of The 2015 Buckley Free Speech Survey on McLaughlin & Associates’ website.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the survey was released yesterday. The release date was Monday, October 26. The Torch regrets the error.

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