Study: Sixty-Five Percent of College Students Believe that They Cannot Speak Freely on Campus

We often discuss (including a controversy today) the growing intolerance for opposing views on our campuses and the rising generation of censors in our society. Students and even faculty members increasingly call for the silencing or firing of those who espouse opposing views on a range of different subjects. The speech codes and sanctions on campuses have silenced many who might voice dissenting views, as we have seen in prior polling. That has created a type of academic echo chamber in scholarship and classrooms. Now, a new study offers insights into the extent of that chilling effect for our students. The Knight Foundation released a new study showing that sixty-five (65) percent agreed that people on campus today are prevented from speaking freely. The poll is additional evidence of the failure of administrators and faculty to maintain campuses as forums for free thought and intellectual engagement.

The Foundation enlisted Ipsos to assemble a “nationally representative sample of over 1,000 college students ages 18-24 enrolled in all types of higher education institutions, along with 4,000 American adults.” The report, “College Student Views on Free Expression and Campus Speech 2022,” is part of the Knight Free Expression (KFX) Research Series.

The polling also showed that fifty-nine (59) percent say that they believe schools should be places where students hear all types of speech, even speech considered offensive or biased. Less than half felt that their free speech rights are secure today.

This study shows that conservatives and Republicans on campus feel the loss of free speech most acutely. That is consistent with other studies. For example, an earlier poll at the University of North Carolina found that conservative students are 300 times more likely to self-censor themselves due to the intolerance of opposing views on our campuses.

What was most striking about the study was the comparative decline among independents and republicans in just three years. From 2019 to 2021, independents feeling that free speech is secure in the country went from 59 percent to 46 percent. For republicans, it went from 52 percent to 27 percent. For democrats the decline was only 2 percent. One obvious take from those figures is that speech codes and enforcement actions favor Democratic speakers and groups. Their speech has not been curtailed as the dominant group on campuses.

The poll is an indictment of our educational system and, yes, our educators. Faculty have remained silent (or supported) the establishment of a new orthodoxy on our campuses. The speech intolerance shown on many campuses stifles intellectual discourse and chills the free speech of many of our students. However, most faculty members remain conspicuously silent rather than risk being tagged or targeted in the next cancelling campaign.



90 thoughts on “Study: Sixty-Five Percent of College Students Believe that They Cannot Speak Freely on Campus”

  1. Once GOP regains control of the WH and Congress, it needs to pass legislation barring any school with overly broad restrictions on speech from getting any federal grants, foreign students, federal subsidies, etc.

  2. Jonathan Turley: There are a number of reasons to question the methodology of the Knight Foundation poll. But let’s cut to the chase. The Foundation is not a neutral observer of politics on university campuses. It has a political agenda. So for those not familiar with the Foundation here is a primer.

    The Foundation has benefitted from white privilege, including slavery. In 1849 a Black slave belonging to Jacob Bason, escaped. Bason placed an ad in the Georgia Telegraph: “STOP THE RUNAWAY” and offered a reward for the return of his slave. Naturally, the Telegraph supported slavery and derived a lot of revenue from such ads because slaves were escaping in great numbers. The Telegraph became the Macon Telegraph and was purchased by what would become Knight-Ridder. In 2006 Knight sold the paper to McClatchy for $6.5 billion. Knight-Ridder used the proceeds to spin off the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with the stated goal to “promote quality journalism”. In recent years the Foundation has strayed from its stated purpose. In 2013 the Foundation paid $20,000 to Jonah Lehrer. “a proven plagiarist, liar and fabricator” (NY Times) to speak at a Knight Foundation forum. There was a lot of blowback and the Foundation was forced to apologize later. In 2017 Newsmax CEO Chris Rudy spoke to a Knight media Forum. Rudy is a Trump loyalist. In 2020 he had Newsmax delay declaring Biden the winner for weeks to win over Fox News viewers doubting Trump’s loss. Does that sound like “quality journalism”? Also in 2020 Knight invited Brad Parscale to speak to speak at the Foundation’s annual invitation-only gathering. Parscale was behind the Trump’s campaign of Black voter suppression strategy. In 2019 Parscale said he was training “swarms of surrogates” to undermine local news organizations who didn’t support Trump. There was large opposition inside and outside the Foundation to Parscale’s invitation. Under pressure the Foundation rescinded the invitation and replaced Parscale with Ory Rinat, the WH chief digital officer. At this time Trump was encouraging violence against journalist covering the campaign. Rinat left the WH but came back later to help defend Trump against impeachment after the Jan 6 insurrection. The question is why would Knight invite speakers who undermine journalism and encourage violence against journalists?

    These are just a few examples of how the Knight Foundation uses its money to promote right-wing causes and Trump’s “Big Lie”–hardly consistent with the promotion of “quality journalism”. It seems you and the Knight Foundation make good bed fellows.

  3. Comments on Reason Magazine online are being censored this week. In real t8me they delete comments while typing. It’s doubtful it’s the Reason Magazine folks (libertarians) so it appears to be federal officials violating Title 18 US Code 242 and 245 and breaking FCC laws. Will AG Garland prosecute his own guys if they are behind this?

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