Presidents Back Free Speech

Poll: Campus leaders have more confidence in their own students and faculty members than they do in those elsewhere when it comes to listening to differing viewpoints.

April 10, 2018
 
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A new poll of college presidents finds strong support for free expression on campus, and strong opposition to the tactic -- seen on a number of campuses in the last year -- of shouting down controversial speakers.

The poll of 471 college presidents was released today by the American Council on Education. Seventy-eight percent of those responding were at four-year colleges and universities.

The poll follows a recent poll by Gallup and the Knight Foundation that found college students value a diverse and inclusive environment more than free speech.

College presidents, too, were more likely to say a commitment to inclusivity was “extremely important” than to say the same about a commitment to free speech (82 to 74 percent).

But an overwhelming majority of college presidents (96 percent) said they supported campus policies that “allow students to be exposed to all types of speech, even if they find it offensive or biased.”

When it comes to controversial tactics that have been used on some campuses by students and others seeking to block the appearance of certain speakers, presidents are dubious.

Eighty-five percent of presidents said it was never acceptable to shout down a speaker, and 15 percent said it was sometimes acceptable. No president said it was always acceptable.

Every president in the survey said it was never acceptable to use violence to block a speech.

Presidents were supportive of rallies and passing out leaflets and other nondisruptive tactics as ways for students to express opposition to various speakers.

Generally presidents expressed more confidence in their own students and faculty members -- in terms of listening to a range of viewpoints -- than they had in those elsewhere in higher education. This continues a pattern found in many Inside Higher Ed surveys of presidents and others -- college administrators frequently state that various issues are a major challenge to other colleges, but not their own.

Bar charts show responses to the following question: How would you rate the job of the below individuals at seeking out and listening to differing viewpoints from their own? For students at your college, 49 percent of presidents said good/very good, 41 percent said fair and 9 percent said poor. For students other colleges, 25 percent of presidents said good/very good, 56 percent said fair and 19 percent said poor. For faculty at your college, 53 percent of presidents said good/very good, 35 percent said fair and 12 percent said poor. For faculty at other colleges, 36 percent of presidents said good/very good, 46 percent said fair and 19 percent said poor. For staff/administrators at your college, 73 percent of presidents said good/very good, 25 percent said fair and 2 percent said poor. For staff/administrators at other colleges, 55 percent of presidents said good/very good, 40 percent said fair and 6 percent said poor. Source: Pulse Point Presidential Survey on Campus Inclusion and Free Speech, American Council on Education, 2018.

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