by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
More than three-in-four college students want “safe spaces” on their campuses that are free of “threatening actions, ideas, or conversations,” even as a majority support President Trump’s threat to withhold taxpayer dollars from universities that restrict speech, according to a new poll.
While 97 percent of college students believe that free speech is an essential pillar of American democracy, a significant majority of students also support policies to restrict specific types of speech on campus. The poll conducted by Gallup and the Knight Foundation found that 78 percent of students support “safe spaces” where threatening ideas and conversations would be barred. More than 80 percent favor the establishment of a “free-speech zone” where preapproved protests and the distribution of literature are permitted.
In response to growing concerns about academic freedom on campuses, the Trump administration ordered all federally funded universities to protect free speech on campus. University administrators denounced the move, with the president of Columbia University calling it a “transparent exercise in politics.” Most students support the Trump administration’s decision, however, with 58 percent of pupils supporting a ban on federal funding for colleges that do not protect free-speech rights.
The survey—which polled 3,319 college students, aged 18 to 24, from 24 different schools—also found that 63 percent of students feel that their campus climates deter students from expressing themselves openly, up from 54 percent in 2016. The students say that conservative students experience greater barriers to openly expressing their opinion in public, with Democrats feeling more comfortable than Republicans about sharing dissenting views in class.
Evette Alexander, director of learning and impact at the Knight Foundation, said that survey respondents felt greater pressure from their peers, rather than their professors, about voicing their dissenting opinions.
Carolina Journal Online has documented North Carolina’s efforts to promote free speech on college campuses.