College Free Speech Crisis: “I Agree With You, But I Could Never Say It Publicly”


03-10-20 08:59:00,

By John Hirschauer of RealClearEducation

Georgetown Promotes Free Speech, but Students Don’t Feel It

Many Americans believe colleges and universities are failing to defend free speech and open inquiry on campus, as videos of student mobs shouting down speakers and undergraduates shrieking at their professors have helped to undermine popular faith in institutions of higher education.

Those viral moments, however, fail to capture the state of free expression on campus in its full nuance and complexity. To provide a more detailed look at the state of speech at American colleges and universities, RealClearEducation collaborated with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the survey-research group College Pulse on the 2020 College Free Speech Survey.

Nearly 20,000 undergraduates at 55 major American colleges and universities participated in the survey. Students were asked a series of questions, meant to gauge their own commitment to free speech and their perception of their peers’ tolerance for diverse points of view. Institutions were ranked according to student sentiment on free expression. 

The results were dispiriting. As RealClearEducation’s Nathan Harden highlighted on Tuesday, nearly “20% of students say that using violence to stop an unwanted speech or event is in some cases acceptable,” and some 60 percent of the undergraduates surveyed “say they have kept quiet due to fear of how others would respond.”

One university in particular stands out for the discrepancy between its official posture on free speech and the views of its students on the state of speech on campus. Georgetown University, which hosts the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University and is apparently committed to promoting free expression, struggled mightily in the 2020 College Free Speech Rankings, ranking 48th out of the 55 colleges and universities included. 

A granular look at the data from Georgetown is startling. Forty percent of Georgetown undergraduates surveyed were not confident that the administration would support an embattled speaker in a free-speech controversy. Sixty-eight percent of students felt that it might be acceptable to shout down a speaker on campus, while 17% felt it could be acceptable in some cases to use violence to stop a speech on campus. This atmosphere of intolerance extends to the classroom,

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