Freedom of expression is in jeopardy at U.S. colleges and universities, according to a survey of students conducted by John Villasenor at Brookings.
Villasenor noted that the survey was vital because students are "de facto arbiters of free expression on campus … if a significant percentage of students believe that views they find offensive should be silenced, those views will in fact be silenced."
Most students in the poll believe incorrectly that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment. Villasenor said hate speech is "odious" but protected as long as it does not violate exceptions such as speech that incites violence or contains "true threats."
- 44 percent say it is not protected.
- 39 percent believe it is protected.
- 16 percent said they did not know.
Another question examined the tolerance for controversial speakers at public universities, and whether disruption of their speeches was acceptable.
- 51 percent of students agreed that it was acceptable for a student group that opposed the speaker to shout so that the speaker could not be heard, while 49 percent disagreed with that position.
- 81 percent of students disagreed that it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to disrupt a speech they found offensive, while 19 percent believed violence was acceptable.
The First Amendment does not legally require presentation of both sides of a topic. However, many students in the survey believe that it does.
- 62 percent believe the First Amendment legally requires an opposing viewpoint.
- 38 percent believe that it does not.
Another question showed that students in the survey are almost evenly distributed between those who believe all viewpoints should be allowed and that some should be barred.
- 53 percent believe in a positive learning environment that would be created by prohibiting certain speech or viewpoints that are offensive or biased against some groups.
- 47 percent believe in an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if offensive or biased viewpoints are allowed.
The survey was conducted among 1,500 current undergraduate students at four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. The survey included respondents from 49 states and the District of Columbia, and was conducted from Aug. 17 to Aug. 31, according to the report.
Out of the 1,500 respondents, 697 said they were Democrats, 261 said they were Republicans, and 431 said they were independents, the survey report said.
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