Fire’s 2022-23 College Free Speech Rankings samples the views of almost 45,000 currently enrolled students at more than 200 American colleges and universities, the largest study of its kind to date. Like earlier iterations, it shows that conservatives are far more likely to self-censor than their liberal counterparts. For instance, when presented with the question of how often students have felt that they could not express their opinions on a subject because of how students, a professor or the administration would respond, 44 per cent of Democrats report self-censoring. This figure is notably lower than the 58 per cent of independents and 73 per cent of Republicans who do so.
However, the 2022/23 survey includes a number of new questions that offer a powerful new twist on the issue. For instance, while 53 per cent of independents and 66 per cent of Republicans feel some or more significant pressure to avoid certain topics, 43 per cent of Democratic students do so, too.
The most revealing finding emerges in response to a question about how worried students are about damaging their reputations because of a misunderstanding about something they have said or done. A significant majority of students – 63 per cent – are worried to some degree. And despite a generally liberal campus environment, fostered by progressive and woke administrators and liberal faculty who often engage in activist scholarship, there is almost no difference between how worried Democratic and Republican students are.
The 62 per cent of strong and weak Democratic Party-supporting students who report being worried about reputational damage is barely lower than the 64 per cent of those who are independents and leaners towards one party or another. For strong and weak Republicans, who already regularly self-censor at much higher rates than their Democratic counterparts, 63 per cent are worried about the social and personal consequences of their expression.
This is a remarkably unhealthy state of affairs in an educational environment that is supposed to be open, authentic and liberating. It should be no wonder that American students are anxious and that depression and other mental health issues are so prominent on campuses today.