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Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Campus Climate

Daniel Stid:
Recurring Knight Foundation / Ipsos surveys of college students show that the proportion of students who say their free speech rights are secure has dropped from 73% in 2016 to 47% in 2021. The decline is driven primarily by students who identify as Republican (-25%) and Independent (-13%) vs. those who identify as Democratic (-2%). In 2021, 65% of students agreed “the climate at their school or on their campus prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find it offensive.” This is up more than 10% from 2016.

The Heterodox Academy’s 2021 Campus Expression Survey offers another sobering snapshot. The good news is that “88% of students agreed that colleges should encourage students and professors to interact respectfully with people whose beliefs differ from their own.” The bad news: “63% of students agreed that the climate on their campus prevents people from saying things that they believe.” In aggregate, 60% of students reported being reluctant to discuss at least one of five potentially controversial topics in their classrooms: politics, religion, race, sexual orientation, or gender. And here too there is a clear progressive political skew. Students identifying as Republican and Independent reported being more reluctant to discuss these topics than their Democratic counterparts.

The strong signals pointing to the diminishment and political skewing of freedom of expression and viewpoint diversity in higher education parallel those in other domains. We see similar patterns in journalism, media, and entertainment companies, professional services firms, philanthropic foundations, and many of the nonprofit groups they support.

Correlation is not causation, but the vast majority of up and coming employees in these organizations have something in common. They have spent four or more years being acclimatized in colleges and universities en route to what are currently the commanding heights of our society and culture. The worldviews and politics of the 38% of American adults who have at least a bachelor’s degree are diverging from those of the 62% who do not. Widening educational polarization is not good for a liberal democracy bedeviled by mounting populist disdain for elites.

As some of us have been noticing, and Ryan Grim recently reported in telling detail, it is not even good for progressive organizations and causes. To the great detriment of their missions, they are increasingly prone to Bolshevik vs. Menshevik-style infighting and stance taking. Colleges and universities must do better in preparing their students to participate productively amid the rough and tumble of our disputatious democracy–and the full sweep of viewpoints they will encounter within it.