A report, titled, “Free expression and constructive dialogue at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” is latest study to confirm what many of us have said for years: universities and colleges are becoming increasing hostile environments for free speech generally and for conservatives specifically. The study of the UNC environment found that “The current campus does not consistently promote free expression and constructive dialogue across the political spectrum.” It further found that conservative students are 300 times more likely to self-censor their views to avoid repercussions from students and faculty.
Two of the findings of the report are all too familiar if understated: “although students across the political spectrum report facing challenges related to free expression, these challenges seem to be more acute for students who identify as conservative.” The report found that conservative students are four times more worried about being open about their views with faculty out of concern for retaliation or poor reviews.
Free speech was once the touchstone of American education. However, in the last couple of decades, faculty members have pushed through speech codes and regulations that have created a chilling affect on free speech. These speech controls fall heavily upon conservative students. Indeed the study found that “[c]ompared to self-identified liberals, self-identified conservative students express greater concern about potential academic consequences that might stem from expressing their views (Finding 6).
Students across ideologies report commonly hearing disparaging comments about political conservatives (Finding 9) and conservative students are at greater risk of social isolation.”
We have been discussing the erosion of free speech on campuses with rising speech codes and ambiguous rules barring “microaggressions.” A small percentage of students and faculty often push for such speech codes and regulation. However, it is often difficult for students and faculty to object at the risk of being called intolerant or microaggressors. We discussed previously a Gallup poll confirming that most students feel that they are no longer able to speak freely at college due to this minority of speech intolerant students and faculty. Ninety percent of Pomona students said that they did not feel free to speak openly or freely. It is an indictment of not just Pomona but many of our colleges. Nine out of ten students said that “the campus climate prevents them from saying something others might find offensive.” Nearly two-thirds of faculty feel the same. Seventy-five percent of conservative and moderate students strongly agree that the school climate hinders their free expression. Notably, that is “nearly 2.5 times higher than very liberal students.”
We have been discussing how faculty around the country are supporting the abandonment of free speech principles to bar speakers and speech with which they disagree. The most extreme form of this rejection of classical liberal values is the antifa movement. We have seen faculty physically attack speakers or destroy messages that they oppose. We have also seen faculty physically attacked and intimidated. In some of these incidents, other faculty have supported students in shutting down speakers or fellow academics (here and here).
The UNC study adds to the ample evidence of rising intolerance against free speech led by faculty members and administrators at our universities. We are destroying the very essence of what defines us by remaining silent in the face of this trend. In rewriting school codes and using disciplinary procedures, certain faculty have used higher education to create an echo-chamber for their own views and intimidated those students, particularly conservative students, who hold opposing views and values.
The study was compiled by Jennifer Larson, Department of English and Comparative Literature; Mark McNeilly, Kenan-Flagler Business School; and Timothy J. Ryan, Department of Political Science