Frequently Asked Questions

What is FIRE?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit educational foundation based in Philadelphia, Pa. FIRE’s mission is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights on our campuses, and provides the means to preserve them.

Why did FIRE pursue this survey?

To our knowledge, only two previous surveys have been completed on the topic of due process on college campuses, and neither of these surveys specifically asked college students about their attitudes. Additionally, the previous research only delved into the intersection of due process and sexual assault on campus. This led us to wonder both what students thought about due process on campus, and how students thought about due process in the context of other types of alleged misconduct, such as sexual misconduct or underage drinking. To better understand student attitudes toward due process, we tried to answer the following questions:

  • Do students support due process protections during campus disciplinary hearings?
  • Does support for due process protections vary depending on the alleged misconduct (e.g. Do students support a presumption of innocence in a case of alleged sexual misconduct at a higher or lower level than in a case of alleged underage drinking)?
  • What do students feel is the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing?

By publishing the results of this survey, we hope to contribute to a national conversation about due process at American colleges and universities.

Who administered the survey?

FIRE contracted with YouGov (California), a nonpartisan polling and research firm. YouGov has polled for The New York Times and The Economist. The Pew Research Center finds that YouGov outperforms its competitors when it comes to providing accurate survey results.

How many people were interviewed?

YouGov used an online survey to interview a total of 2,457 two- and four- year undergraduate students at American colleges and universities. Once YouGov completed the interviews, they provided us with a final data set of responses from 2,225 students.

When was the survey conducted?

Students responded to the survey between January 29 and February 12, 2018.

What is the margin of error for the survey?

Tabulations from the overall sample have an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Tabulations taken from the treatment groups (questions asked about “breaking a rule,” “underage drinking,” and “sexual misconduct”) have an estimated margin of error of plus or minus 3.8 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Tabulations taken from subgroups of these samples have a greater margin of error.

The margin of error and confidence level in a survey are a measurement of how accurate the tabulations are and how confident someone can be in the tabulations. For example, we report that 84 percent of students think that the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing is to provide justice and protection to students on campus. Because this question was asked of all 2,225 students in our overall sample, our margin of error means that our result may differ up to 2.2 percentage points in either direction, so that in the general population between 81.8 percent and 86.2 percent of students think that the primary purpose of a campus disciplinary hearing is to provide justice and protection to students on campus. Our confidence level means that if our survey was conducted 100 times, we would find the same results for this statistic 95 of those times.

What is a non-probability sample and why did FIRE use one for its survey?

We decided to pursue a non-probability methodology after considering the cost, speed, and data quality that we needed for this project. Like The New York Times and The Economist, we decided to contract with YouGov, the most accurate non-probability polling company.

Non-probability sampling is a new methodology in the survey field, and it has strengths and weaknesses just like more traditional probability sampling. The main weakness of non-probability sampling is that, unlike in a probability sample, not every individual in the population of interest has the same likelihood of being sampled for response. In other words, there is concern that data collected with this method does not accurately reflect the views of the population polled. To make up for this weakness, a matching and weighting process is undertaken so that the non-probability sample reflects the population of interest as closely as possible. We looked at the tabulations for both the weighted and unweighted data, and the results were extremely similar.

How was your sample weighted?

Our poll was administered online to a sample of YouGov’s panel of respondents. After students responded to the survey, YouGov matched the responses down to our final sample using a sampling frame from the 2013 American Community Survey. Weights for each response were calculated by YouGov based on the respondent’s gender, race, and age.

What other surveys have been completed on this subject?

To our knowledge, our survey is the first to ask American college students about their attitudes toward due process on campus. Two previous surveys have asked American adults about their attitudes toward due process on campus.

Is more research needed on this topic?

Absolutely. Due process on college campuses is an important issue that affects students’ daily lives and can have long-lasting consequences on their educations and careers. Understanding how institutions protect students’ due process rights and how students perceive their rights are topics ripe for discussion and more research. Additionally, replication is an important part of the research process. So that trends in public opinion over time can be analyzed, researchers must ask the same questions of similar populations over time.

How was the survey funded?

The survey and resulting report were made possible through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

How can I access your survey’s data?

We have made the tabulations and toplines available on our website. The survey questionnaire and its specifications are found at the end of the survey report. We will make the respondent-level data public by the end of this summer.

I’m a member of the media, who should I contact to talk about the survey?

All media requests can be emailed to media@thefire.org, or you can contact Communications Coordinator Bill Rickards at 215-717-3473.