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The University of Wisconsin System on Wednesday released a survey of its students’ views on free speech, and the results are likely to be both heartening and distressing to those concerned about the state of campus expression.

The survey of more than 10,000 students at the system’s 13 campuses covers a wide range of topics related to free speech and expression. Some of the findings, which vary significantly by demographic group and political orientation:

  • Students were more likely to agree than to disagree that faculty members create an atmosphere supportive of free expression. But more than a third of respondents said that they had felt pressured by an instructor to agree with a specific view, and about a third said they had felt pressured often. Self-described conservatives were several times likelier than their peers to answer that way.
  • About six in 10 respondents said they had wanted to express their views on a controversial topic but had chosen not to. Students were likelier to fear a negative response from their peers than from instructors.
  • Students on balance are likelier to say that they will not consider viewpoints they disagree with on key issues than that they will consider alternative viewpoints. That’s most true on contentious issues such as abortion (where 23 percent say they’ll consider viewpoints they disagree with and 57 percent say they won’t), but also on issues such as religion, immigration and climate change.
  • Nearly six in 10 respondents say their peers are either “not at all” or only “a little” interested in hearing alternative viewpoints. Only 12 percent say their peers are extremely or very interested in hearing different viewpoints.
  • Higher proportions of students agree than disagree that their peers are willing to express their views freely.
  • Fewer than one in 10 students say invited speakers with “offensive” messages should be forced from the stage or have their speeches disrupted with noise.

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