In a result that civil libertarians across the United States should find startling, a new survey reveals that a majority of college students responding to a new survey says schools should be allowed to “restrict” expression of views, including political, that are “offensive” to some students.
The survey was done by YouGov for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education on a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.
It contacted 2,225 American undergraduate students in September and October 2018 and weighted the responses based on “gender, race, age, education, and geographic region.”
It actually was 57 percent of students who want colleges to be able to restrict student expression of political views “that are hurtful or offensive to certain students.”
“Sixty percent of students responded that promoting an inclusive environment that is welcoming to a diverse group of students should be a more important priority than protecting students’ free speech rights, including hurtful or offensive speech,” FIRE reported.
“More than half of students (55 percent) think the climate on their campus makes it difficult for students to have conversations about important issues such as race, politics, and gender. A majority of students (70 percent) think students should be excluded from extracurricular activities if they publicly express intolerant, hurtful, or offensive viewpoints.”
These results came despite the claims from 96 percent of students that it is important that their civil rights or liberties are protected.
“When asked which civil right or liberty is the most important, the largest proportion of students (30 percent) think that freedom of speech is the most important civil right or liberty,” FIRE said.
The survey revealed the opinion in “specific” situations:
“Almost three-quarters of students (73 percent) think registered student groups on campus should be able to deny leadership positions in the student group to students who don’t agree with the mission of the group. Seventy-three percent of students think student government should distribute student activity fees to registered student groups on campus without regard to whether the student government agrees with the mission of the student group. Although 73 percent of students think student government should distribute student activity fees without regard to the mission of the student group: Half of students (51 percent) think groups with missions that certain students find intolerant, hurtful, or offensive should be able to register as student groups and receive student activity fees from student government.”
On the issue of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, amid competing protests, 71 percent say those protesting white nationalists should be allowed their say, but only 52 percent say the white nationalists should be allowed to protest peacefully.
Overall, “We find that students strongly support protection of their rights and liberties – and of freedom of speech, in particular – when asked questions about them in general terms,” the report said.
But, “as previous surveys have found and as this survey confirms, when students are asked more specific questions about the limits of free speech or the content of speech, their support for the protection of speech declines. This occurs most notably when students are asked questions about expression that is offensive or intolerant. We believe this is why more than half of students (57 percent) think colleges and universities should be able to restrict student expression of political views that are hurtful or offensive to certain students.”
“These viewpoints are troubling from FIRE’s perspective. They suggest only a surface-level understanding of free expression and association protections that underlie the First Amendment and an unwillingness to see them applied to the protection of expression some find offensive or objectionable,” the foundation report said.
The foundation said the results document “college students value inclusivity over free speech, think their fellow students should have their political views censored if they are hurtful or offensive to certain students, and think that students should be excluded from extracurricular activities if they publicly express intolerant, hurtful, or offensive viewpoints.”
“Students overwhelmingly support free speech rights as a general principle, but that support hollows out when they are asked more specific questions about those rights,” said FIRE Director of Communications Nico Perrino.