Georgia Student Survey Finds Little Free-Speech Restriction

"Students and faculty [aren't] crushing each other's free speech with great force."

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A survey of students commissioned by the University System of Georgia suggests that political oppression by the faculty is not as severe as some (like "Academic Bill of Rights" advocate David Horowitz) have suggested. Instead, students actually perceive more intolerance of each other's differing political views than intolerance by their professors. "I didn't see any systemic ideological bias to be of great concern," Susan Herbst, executive vice chancellor of the Georgia system, told the Chronicle of Higher Education. "Students and faculty [aren't] crushing each other's free speech with great force."

About 21 percent of students feel that their peers aren't tolerant of the political views of others, and only 47 percent said their peers were accepting of their views. As for professors, 13 percent of students said professors presented their views inappropriately.

Inside Higher Ed delves deeper into the numbers:

A larger percentage—23 percent—said they had felt that they had to agree with a professor to get a good grade—although the majority of those students felt this had only happened once in their time in college. Even with these findings, there is evidence that suggests classroom expression isn't necessarily squelched. For example, of those who believed that professors had inappropriately presented their views, 62 percent said that they felt free to argue with the professor. And of those who said they had felt they needed to agree with a professor to get a good grade, only 42 percent said it was because of something the professor said.

Of the survey respondents, 34 percent identified themselves as Republican and 34 percent as Democratic, while the rest called themselves independents or other. The bias that was perceived was more or less equal between the two political sides—12.9 percent saw an anti-Democratic/antiliberal bias, while 10.1 percent saw an anti-Republican/anticonservative bias.

The E-mail survey, which was filled out by 1,200 students at 33 campuses, was ordered by the system's Board of Regents to address concerns about free speech in the state colleges from Republican state lawmakers, some of whom have suggested legislation to ensure "intellectual diversity," especially when it relates to faculty.

The takeaway from the survey for some, however, has been that schools should be focusing on students. "The big finding is that we need to do a better job in how we talk to students about how they talk to each other," Herbst said. "Students don't seem to have the tools to argue passionately and not hurt each other's feelings."