Free Speech May Not Be Dead but It Is Pining for the Fjords

If America’s colleges and universities are where the next generation of national leaders come from, then we are well and truly f***ed.

To some, free speech on college campuses appears to be under attack, but what do the students themselves think? A study released on Monday offers some answers based on a survey of more than 3,000 of them.

The survey, a collaboration among five groups, finds that college students feel increasingly stifled on campus and online, and while they equally value free speech and inclusivity, they wrestle with how best to balance the two.


Except they don’t really struggle.

Let’s look at the numbers in the study.

1. Free expression is important, but so is diversity
The majority of college students say protecting free speech rights (56 percent) and promoting a diverse and inclusive society (52 percent) are both extremely important to democracy. But when asked which was more important, students chose, by narrow margin, diversity and inclusion over free speech, 53 percent to 46 percent. Women, blacks and Democrats are more likely than their counterparts to choose inclusion over free speech.

2. Students support free speech, but increasingly favor limits
Students (70 percent) still favor an open learning environment that allows all types of speech over one that puts limits on offensive speech, however not as widely as they did in 2016 (78 percent). Democrats, blacks and women are among the groups that are less supportive of an open environment than they were in 2016; Republicans still overwhelmingly favor an open environment (86 percent).

This is the triumph of feelings over freedom and adulthood. Where Voltaire is said to have said, “I wholly disapprove of what you say and will defend to the death your right to say it,” we are now at the stage where if anyone is offended the offender is banished from society…so long as they have the correct views.


4. Political conservatives are seen as less able to express their views
Students (54 percent) are more likely to think the climate on their campus prevents people from speaking their mind because others might take offense. While a majority of college students, 69 percent, believe political conservatives are able to freely express their views on campus, many more believe political liberals (92 percent) and other campus groups are able to share their opinions freely.

When you couple a lack of respect for free speech with stupidity, you arrive at this point:

5. Some students say shouting down speakers and using violence is sometimes acceptable
Many colleges struggle when inviting controversial figures to speak on campus. Ninety percent of college students say it is never acceptable to use violence to prevent someone from speaking, but 10 percent say is sometimes acceptable. A majority (62 percent) also say shouting down speakers is never acceptable, although 37 percent believe it is sometimes acceptable.

Well, stupidity and gutlessness:

7. Students believe social media companies should be responsible for limiting hate speech

Eight in 10 students agree that the internet has been responsible for an increase in hate speech. Sixty-eight percent of students strongly or somewhat agree that social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter should be responsible for limiting hate speech on their platforms. While 79 percent of Democrats hold this belief, 52 percent of Republicans do. Black students are also more likely than their white students to think social media companies should to limit hate speech.


The very fact that people who are passing through universities, on their way to adulthood, can use the term “hate speech” in a non-ironic manner shows the fate of free speech. It is dying as a social value. Because that nearly 40 percent who think shouting down speakers is okay is going to subsume 53% who don’t like free speech all that much anyway and they going to roll over that 70% that want to place public discourse under the supervision of Facebook and Twitter and Google.


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