Survey: Over Half of Faculty Fear Retaliation for Speaking Freely on Issues

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has released a new survey of nearly 1,500 faculty members at four-year colleges in the US. Ideologically the survey of college faculty is consistent with other polls and surveys in showing that over half of the faculty nationwide is afraid to speak freely in the current atmosphere of intolerance and orthodoxy. What is most striking about this and other surveys is that the number of conservatives on faculties is comparably very small. Yet, even liberal faculty now fear backlash for speaking freely in classes or on campus.

More than half of the faculty respondents (52%) indicated they are worried about losing their jobs or reputations over statements that could be misconstrued or attacked. Not surprising, that view is overwhelming among those identifying as conservative with 72% reported that they are “somewhat” or “very” worried. Yet, even 40% of liberal faculty also felt this way.

Polls and surveys show that this fear is now shared by both students and faculty, including a recent poll at MIT. Again, what is notable with this data is that only a small percentage (if any) of faculty self-identify as Republican or conservative. Yet, a significant percentage still fear speaking openly in their own classes or on campuses.

Cancel campaigns are now a common pattern in schools ranging from Yale to Northwestern to Georgetown.  Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech. It is the very antithesis of free speech. Nevertheless, faculty have supported such claims. CUNY Law Dean Mary Lu Bilek showed how far this trend has gone. When conservative law professor Josh Blackman was stopped from speaking about “the importance of free speech,”  Bilek insisted that disrupting the speech on free speech was free speech. (Bilek later cancelled herself and resigned).

This dangerous trend in academia is discussed in my law review article, Jonathan Turley, “Harm and Hegemony: The Decline of Free Speech in the United States”, Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

We have seen how this can turn into a type of “heckler’s veto” where speeches are cancelled in advance or terminated suddenly due to the disruption of protesters. The issue is not engaging in protests against such speakers, but to enter events for the purpose of preventing others from hearing such speakers. Universities create forums for the discussion of a diversity of opinions. Entering a classroom or event to prevent others from speaking is barring free speech. I would feel the same way about preventing such people from protesting outside such events. However, the concern is not with outdoor events where all groups can be as loud and cantankerous as their voices will bear. Both sides have free speech rights to express. The issue on campus is the entrance into halls, or classrooms to prevent others from hearing speakers or opposing viewpoints by disrupting events.

This has been an issue of contention with some academics who believe that free speech includes the right to silence others.  Berkeley has been the focus of much concern over the use of a heckler’s veto on our campuses as violent protesters have succeeded in silencing speakers, even including a few speakers like an ACLU official.  Both students and some faculty have maintained the position that they have a right to silence those with whom they disagree and even student newspapers have declared opposing speech to be outside of the protections of free speech.  At another University of California campus, professors actually rallied around a professor who physically assaulted pro-life advocates and tore down their display.  In the meantime, academics and deans have said that there is no free speech protection for offensive or “disingenuous” speech.

We are seeing the result of such policies. This generation of administrators and professors has created an atmosphere of fear and intimidation on our campuses. There is a dwindling level of diversity on our faculties and a failing level of trust in free speech protections. It is the destruction of the very touchstone of higher education as a place for freedom of thought and expression. That tradition has been replaced by speech codes, compelled speech, and cancel campaigns.

Yet, it is not the actions of administrators that is most disgraceful but the silence of most faculty members as their colleagues are targeted and harassed. As these surveys show, the silent acquiescence has not given faculty more security or freedom to teach and speak. Through their silence, they are creating the very hostile environment that they now fear.

26 thoughts on “Survey: Over Half of Faculty Fear Retaliation for Speaking Freely on Issues”

  1. I am not surprised to learn that so many faculty are afraid to speak out. As Professor Tiurley has said elsewhere, most faculty members lack tenure ; ie they have no job security. The environment they work in is toxic as far as I expressing a view contrary to that of the mob. I don’t know how or when this very troubling phenomenon began, but I would like to see it come to an end.

  2. “Blocking others from speaking is not the exercise of free speech” – JT

    JT, are you that unaware of your surroundings that humans are social exchangers of information with intuitive and learned skills to detect the utterrances of persons who are:
    – confused
    – ill informed
    – paranoid / misanthropic
    – acting mendaciously in self-interest (lying for advantage)
    – desperate for attention and spreading nonsense
    – agitated and acting on primitive emotions

    What do humans do when so confronted? We block them. We dismiss them. We stifle them. We ignore them. We don’t give them “equal time”. Those of us with editorial gatekeeper roles filter out that which is beyond the pale.

    It’s a normal human behavior to evaluate the signals buzzing around in the environment, and decide which are trustworthy to be passing along to others. I have no problem calling this “social credibility maintenance”.

    What I find weirdly naive about your expansive notion of “free speech” is that it gives a megaphone to those with low social credibility, as if it’s somehow an abridgment of their rights to even judge their credibility, let alone act on that judgment when making decisions about what deserves to be repeated.

    I’m sure that in your long and storied career you’ve organized speaker panels, and from time to time felt justified in sorting out who gets invited to speak, and even had to turn down some who thought they should be on the panel.

    Examine yourself. You’ll find that you have “blocked others from speaking”. Every human naturally does this.
    And, in all likelihood, more speech that is judged valuable takes place when attention is meted out in proportion to credibility. To have a free society with orderliness and innovative-thinking kept in balance, most of us think it foolish to hand the mic to someone in the demographic listed above.

  3. The liberals mind at work. Their lack of humility and vanity of self-worth is a most frightful. Their continued attach on Freedoms are counter and a detriment to a Republic form of governance. These fools are building a road to perdition where every member of society could be sinful of spurious charges. They are recalcitrant and burdensome in the quest for a Utopian world of their making, all the while creating a false semblance of equal justice and freedoms. They must be ridiculed and shown to be imbeciles of the highest order.

  4. There’s a communist party “political officer” on every corner.

    The “community organizer,” Barack Obama, has “fundamentally transformed” the United States into the “Union of American Socialist Republics.”

  5. Turley is proving that we are long past time to merely speak out.

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

    —Martin Niemöller

  6. Perhaps it’s time for a different version of Martin Niemöller’s poem “First They Came For….” It might go something like this:

    First they came for those with opinions and thoughts not their own, and I did not speak out—because I was not one who held many opinions and thoughts not their own.

    Then they came for targeted faculty members, and I did not speak out—because I was not one targeted.

    Then they came for all the conservatives, and I did not speak out—because I was not a conservative.

    Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

  7. Wokeness at its best.
    This may sound unrelated, but I am hearing this morning that there are several big-name entertainment stars who have rejected invitations to perform at the coronation of England’s King Charles. Gone are the days when a chance at an invitation meant beating down doors for such an opportunity. Although I have NOT heard this, I can’t help but think that, at least in part, it might plausibly be related to the entertainment world’s pro-HarryandMeghan, pro-women’s rights, etc. sentiments.
    The Force is greater than many of us realize. spreading and taking over all major components of a civil society, placing only the like-minded in all positions of import. The louder the voices, the better.
    We don’t need bombs to scare us. We just need to be constantly bombarded with academia controlling what we are taught–and denying speaking rights to others; -Wokesters boycotting companies and their products, pushing them into bankruptcy; -sports event halftimes filled with Woke entertainment and messaging; -loud public protests/rioting/looting/burning/vandalism about …whatever; -television commercials and programming grossly misrepresenting our demographics; -potential employers slyly eliciting information from us about our personal beliefs and politics; -the Jimmy Kimmels and Stephen Colberts of the world controlling what we can think of as funny….before we are subtlely–without a bruise or cut–pummeled into submission.
    I’m not that old, but I am glad that I was born when I was. Used to be that we looked forward to the future for our progeny.

    1. spot on! and we have a very small window of opportunity left, while we boomers are still alive, to turn this around, but I am not hopeful. Too many boomers have been sucked in to the vortex lol.

      1. I am still hopeful, (graduated in the late 80s, didn’t notice a shift in thinking until late 90s or so….now out of control.)
        Your name/moniker, “whimsical” is soothing…

        1. It comes from the name of my original company way back when… Now I am retired and my son runs it but I still keep part of the company name as a token. I graduated HS 1968 and went off to college. I saw the prog/left profs come out of the woodwork that spring of Kent State. They set up talking spots to reach the students who were rebellious and assisted them in taking over the administration buildings etc. They had been there from before WWII building their network of like-minded progressive thinkers while the conservatives either didn’t notice or were too damn polite to tell them they were nuts. I can’t image myself going to college at this point in time, I would be expelled first day lol.

        2. I started college in 1969 and graduated in 1973 with a BA in Political Science. I saw it transitioning then, but it was subtle. No outright suppression of opposing views, i.e., conservative views, but quiet efforts to change those views by professors. Not all, but enough.

          1. maj229 and whimsicalmama: Good for both of you to have been so intuitively “aware” at that time. Not so much me, I was a little too young back then, more into bikinis and surfing (went to school in FL and TX) and didn’t pay attention to politics at all, and I do mean, at all.
            maj229: interesting that you were aware of “quiet efforts” because even in the late 80s, I don’t recall professors ever attempting to influence or proselytize, but also, it may have been my geographic location/school.
            whimsical: do you remember what kind of anti-war arguments were being propagated, or was it generally anti-government sentiment?

  8. And tell me why these 50% don’t have any clout? The boards of these institutions are the ones who support the woke, prog/left agenda. Go after the, shed light on their twisted world views and inform all donors of the use of their endowments. This is a deep, deep problem. I feel as if the infestation of the prog/left is like toenail fungus, so deeply rooted that it is almost impossible to root it out at this time.

  9. The progressive clowns in academia are reaping what they sowed. They should try thinking.

  10. Well, the ability to deal with this starts with leadership. If you don’t lead, then chaos usually follows. The leadership must come from each university’s Board of Trustees and the University Presidents. The trustees must set the tome by hiring Presidents that will uphold a free and open campus but with discipline in the classroom. I have no problem with demonstrations and protests outside but once in the classroom that should cease and discipline and orderly behavior demanded. That needs to be the contract signed by the student when they are accepted and enrolled and with the University contracting to provide a safe, open and free discussion on campus but orderly class teaching and discussion. If the student fails to sign the contract then no admission occurs. Expulsion should be clearly stated is the result of disrupting the class, with no right of return. Fees can be returned up to a certain point each semester after which they are forfeit. Faculty should have similar rules against disrupting classes as part of their tenure tract. Expulsions and firings can go a long way to solving this.
    Trustees need to also act and fire a President that is not upholding the rules stipulated by the Board of Trustees. Leading from the rear is not leading and is simply moral cowardice. There is a lot of that going on these days.

  11. With the DEI Gestapo installed and embedded in many colleges, and going after conservatives, Christians, whites and Asians, we now truly have a “systemic racism” problem. And it’s no surprise that liberals are also feeling the pressure — they know they’re only one pronoun away from being fired and humiliated.

  12. Universities create forums for the discussion of a diversity of opinions.

    They used to, or are supposed to, create such forums, but more and more they don’t. They were once known as an island of freedom in a sea of repression. Over time they metamorphosed into islands of repression in a sea of freedom. Now that their indoctrinated drones have invaded most of government, the public schools, and corporate America, they are an island of repression in a sea of repression.

    The protesters who shut down free speech on the concept that any speech they disagree with is not protected speech, would be using guillotines to behead the speakers if that were permitted. They are the spiritual kin of Robespierre and his Jacobins. They believe they have a lock on truth and anyone who disagrees needs to be punished.

    While Professor Turley’s effort to push back against this tide of Jacobin violence is admirable, it won’t be enough. In my view, the only hope lies in alternative institutions which really do uphold freedom, such as the University of Austin, which is showing the way. (Note: this is not the University of Texas at Austin, but an independent private college.)

  13. The problem at universities is they are untethered from the free market.

    College student loans need to be dischargable by bankruptcy. With the University and the hook for all the debt. That cleans up all the crap going on in the classroom. Students will advance to to be productive members of society, or the universities will lose income.

    1. Federal student loans may be discharged in bankruptcy only if you file a separate action, known as an “adversary proceeding,” requesting the bankruptcy court find that repayment would impose undue hardship on you and your dependents. Rarely granted. That’s why the push to have student loans forgiven by executive order, because politicians (Dems) who support it, know they can’t get the votes in Congress to do it.

      1. AH-TEN-HUT!!!


        Congress, per Article 1, Section 8, has the power to tax for ONLY debt (national debt, not the very specific and particular student debt), defense and infrastructure, or “general Welfare,” general meaning all or the whole.

        Social Security and Medicare address, not general, all, or the whole, but merely 16.9% of the population.

        Congress has no power to tax for or otherwise fund student loans, Social Security, Medicare et al.

        America was designed for “the pursuit of happiness” in the free markets of the private sector, including every type of loan, retirement investment and healthcare insurance coverage.

        At ease, men. Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

      2. Maj229. That is not what the law was before 2005. We need to return to the pre-2005 situation in which student loan debt could be scheduled for discarge on your petition without an adversary proceeding.

  14. Universities have to prevent the debate of ideas. Universities cannot defend their positions in free and open arena of ideas.

  15. The Leftist/“woke” mobs are intolerant, non-inclusive, and non-diverse. It’s cult behavior and fascist. They are destroying the colleges and eventually their own jobs.

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