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February 17 2016

College Freshmen are More Liberal, Less in Favor of Free Speech

Patrice J. Lee

Today’s college freshmen are more liberal, less religious, and more committed to social protests and civic participation than at any time since the Watergate scandal.

UCLA researchers surveyed more 141,000 freshmen and found that 33.5 percent of college freshmen identified as liberal or “far left” while 21.6 percent identified as conservative. This is just a just slight change from 2014, but this year represents the highest ratio of left-leaning students observed by the study since the height of Watergate in 1973 when 35.4 percent described themselves as liberal.

Two of the issues that demonstrate this liberal leaning: marijuana legalization (56.4 percent support) and pro-choice abortion policies (63.5 percent support).

Free speech took a beating in the survey. College freshmen agree with restrictions on free speech with support for banning speech that can hurt feelings rising to 70.9 percent in 2015 from 58.9 percent in 1992. Less than half support college banning “extreme” speakers.

College freshmen indicated that they envision themselves voting and getting involved. 59.8 percent self-identified as likely voters and 39.8 percent desire to become community leaders. There was a also a 3 percentage-point increase in the number who said there’s a good chance that they will participate in student protests of their four-year college stay.

UCLA conducts this annual survey of first-time, full-time students at nearly 200 four-year U.S. colleges and universities in 2015.

LA Times reports on comments from the lead researcher on this survey:

 “We certainly see students embracing more of the progressive perspectives,” [Director of UCLA's cooperative institutional research program, which conducted the survey Kevin] Eagan said. “But will it actually translate to action?

"If they organize, protest and show up at the polls, they may have a role in shaping the public discourse on issues related to social inequality, equity and discrimination," he said. "By contrast, if these students do not follow through on their intentions and goals, the enthusiastic support we're seeing for addressing social justice concerns will likely diminish, eliminating the potential for a broader impact in politics or American life."

Eagan said he understood student concerns that derogatory speech could lead to violence or harm students. “At the same time, institutions need to make sure we aren’t insulating students from ideas that may be counter to their narratives,” he said.

The most startling result of this survey is the aversion to free speech that today’s college students have. These young people have grown up coddled and believing that the free expression of ideas is wrong and can lead to violence. It can but only if you can't tolerate the ideas of others.

Fee speech zones, banning controversial speakers, and shaming other perspectives is more indicative of an authoritarian nation than an open society where all ideas and perspectives have a place. We may not agree with them or like them, but when the rising generation thinks it’s the role of institutions (such as their college administration) to silence dissent, we are just a generation away from the end of the constitutionally-protected right of free speech.

IIndependent Women's Forum is an educational 501(c)(3) dedicated to developing and advancing policies that aren’t just well intended, but actually enhance people’s freedom, choices, and opportunities. IWF is the sister organization of the Independent Women’s Voice.​
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