With the start of classes at George Washington Law School, I have already had visits to my office of conservative and libertarian students asking if I thought they could speak freely in other classes without being penalized by professors. Despite teaching for decades, it is a question that I never heard from students until the last few years. It is now routine. It is the widespread fear of conservative students who have faced faculties with overwhelmingly liberal viewpoints and growing intolerance on virtually every campus as undergraduate students. Now a new study at North Carolina confirms how conservative students routinely “self-censor” and do not feel comfortable sharing their views in classes. Not surprisingly given the heavy liberal makeup of faculties, liberal students feel little such fear over retaliation.
Polls have shown that sixty-five (65) percent agreed that people on campus today are prevented from speaking freely and 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.
This study was conducted under a grant from the university by political scientists Timothy Ryan and Andrew Engelhardt of the University of North Carolina, political scientist Jennifer Larson of Vanderbilt, and business scholar Mark McNeilly. The UNC surveyed students from eight UNC institutions and found the same sharp contrast.
Only seven percent of liberal students were concerned about how their professor’s ideology would affect their grades while that rate is 6 times higher for conservatives at 42 percent. Sixty-eight percent of conservatives were worried about sharing their views with other students (as opposed to 31 percent among liberal students).
The authors also concluded that a “significant number of students have concerns about stating their sincere political views in class and have self-censored because they were concerned about the potential reactions.”
Universities have failed to push for greater ideological diversity on faculties as hiring committees continue to replicate their own viewpoints and bias. It is not just students but faculty who face this pressure to self-censure. Faculty members risk cancel campaigns that threaten publications, conference invitations, and even their employment if they voice dissenting views.
It is heartbreaking to meet with students who feel, even in law school, that they must remain silent in class to avoid the ire or retaliation from faculty. Most faculties have a small and diminishing number of conservative or libertarian members. I discuss that long trend in my recent publication in the Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy. The article is entitled “Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States.”