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Study Casts Doubts on Student Support for Free Speech

September 19, 2017

The Brookings Institution has released survey results showing that many college students lack understanding of or support for the legal principles of the First Amendment. Among the findings:

  • Students are more likely to believe that hate speech is not protected by the First Amendment than to believe it is protected (44 percent to 39 percent, with the remaining saying that they don't know).
  • A slight majority (51 percent) of students believe that it is "acceptable" for students to repeatedly shout at a controversial speaker to prevent that person from being heard in a campus talk.
  • Nineteen percent of students (and 30 percent of male students) said it would be acceptable for a student group to use violence to prevent a controversial speaker from speaking.
  • A large majority of students (62 percent) said that when bringing a controversial speaker to campus, a student group is legally required to also have a speaker with an opposing view.

While students who identify as Democrats were more likely than those who identify as Republicans to take positions counter to First Amendment principles, many Republicans took such positions as well. For example, 39 percent of Republican-identified students said that the First Amendment does not protect hate speech.

Gallup and the Knight Foundation released survey results last year showing that students say they support the First Amendment but in many cases have positions that run counter to its principles.

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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