A new poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression shows that only a fifth of the public believe that conservatives can exercise free speech on campuses. While faculty members often brush aside objections to the erosion of free speech, this poll is consistent with the view of students. What is striking is that such polling and objections have made little difference to administrators and academics who continue to maintain a hostile environment for conservative or libertarian views.
Roughly half of those polled (47%) said that liberals have “a lot” of freedom to express their views on campuses. Yet, only 20 percent believe that conservatives can enjoy the same free speech rights.
We have already seen faculties purged of conservative and libertarian colleagues. We previously discussed how surveys at universities show a virtual purging of conservative and Republican faculty members. For example, last year, the Harvard Crimson noted that the university had virtually eliminated Republicans from most departments but that the lack of diversity was not a problem. Now, a new survey conducted by the Harvard Crimson shows that more than three-quarters of Harvard Arts and Sciences and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences faculty respondents identify as “liberal” or “very liberal.” Only 2.5% identified as “conservative,” and only 0.4% as “very conservative.”
Likewise, a study by Georgetown University’s Kevin Tobia and MIT’s Eric Martinez found that only nine percent of law school professors identify as conservative at the top 50 law schools. Notably, a 2017 study found 15 percent of faculties were conservative. Another study found that 33 out of 65 departments lacked a single conservative faculty member.
Compare that to a recent Gallup poll stating, “roughly equal proportions of U.S. adults identified as conservative (36%) and moderate (35%) in Gallup polling throughout 2022, while about a quarter identified as liberal (26%).”
The free fall of free speech on campuses has dovetailed with this purging of faculty ranks to create an echo chamber of academic views and values. Despite consistent polling from the public and students showing concern over the lack of diversity of viewpoints on campuses, faculty members show little interest in reversing this trend. Instead, faculty continue to yield to their own agendas at the cost of higher education. Even with plunging trust in higher education, administrators and faculty cannot resist the temptation to exclude opposing voices.
As I have previously written, the recent FIRE ranking on free speech shows that the lowest-ranking schools tend to be private universities, which are not subject to the full protections of free speech under the First Amendment. Conversely, the top performers this year are, notably, all public universities — Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University.
Indeed, in the top-20 schools for free speech, only two are private universities, the University of Chicago and Washington & Lee University.
Much like woke corporations, faculty continue to exclude conservative professors and limit free speech despite the desire of many students to attend speech-tolerant institutions.
The fact is that the better performance of public universities likely reflects compulsion rather than agreement for many faculty. Public universities must protect free speech as a matter of law.
The result, however, is a startling and growing divide among private and public universities. For parents and students who value free speech, they must increasingly look to public universities where faculty are subject to constitutional guarantees.
In the same way, public universities may be the final line of defense for free-speech advocates.
We now largely have two systems of higher education for those seeking education with a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. Except for outliers like the University of Chicago and other private universities holding the line on free speech, the orthodoxy found at private universities remains a barrier to many conservative and independent thinkers.
If we are to protect these bastions of free speech, legislatures will need to play a more active role in addressing the exclusion of both faculty candidates and speakers on public campuses. Too many faculties continue to take the view that citizens are a captive audience that is expected to continue to fund their departments as they exclude conservative or dissenting views held by many, if not most, citizens in a given state. If faculty members want to continue to maintain echo chambers for their own viewpoints, they should have to seek private donors for maintaining such intolerance and orthodoxy. Legislatures can demand evidence that schools are maintaining intellectually diverse faculties in determining the level of continued support from citizens.