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Free Speech Under Scrutiny: Insights from the Latest AP Poll
Unpacking Free Speech Challenges on Campus: AP Poll Findings in Focus
Many people seem, inexplicably, to be confused when it comes to freedom of speech. They seem even more confused at the need and necessity to defend it. Free speech is meaningless unless it means the freedoms of the person who speaks outside the brackets of the consensus. It should be on college campuses where this would hold especially true.
Depressingly, but not surprisingly given our culture of cancelation, the Associated Press revealed Monday that “Americans view college campuses as far friendlier to liberals than to conservatives when it comes to free speech”. The article went on to further detail that“47% of adults say liberals have ‘a lot’ of freedom to express their views on college campuses, while just 20% said the same of conservatives”. This was according to a poll taken by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research in partnership with the University of Chicago Forum for Free Inquiry and Expression.
The Associated Press noted that this poll was conducted in September among a little over 1,000 adults. The survey used “a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population”.
It used to be the case that when someone was confused regarding freedom of speech, it could be spotted right away in the course of conversation. The dead giveaway would always be when they would say “Well, listen, I’m all for free speech, but…”. These days it’s become only slightly harder to spot as now it’s when someone says, unironically, that they’re “for free speech but against hate speech”. More on that momentarily.
One would think that the principles of free inquiry and skepticism that should lend to making a great university would be held in a higher regard than they seem to be.
In an interview with the AP, North Carolina resident Rhonda Baker, who has a son in college, said with chilling emphasis, “If you’re a Republican or lean Republican, you’re unabashedly wrong, they shut you down,”. Baker then went on to say, “If they hold a rally, it’s: ‘The MAGA’s coming through.’ It’s: ‘The KKK is coming through.’”
This decimation of free speech is a weed that has been spreading much too fast and growing far too thick.
It was back in March that, of all places, Stanford came under scrutiny when conservative Circuit Court Judge Kyle Duncan tried to speak at a Federalist Society event. Incredibly, the associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), Tirien Steinbach, not only did nothing to intervene when Judge Duncan was mercilessly heckled by an outrage mob composed of Stanford students but went on to criticize, not the victimizer but the victim.
Fox News reported that during that speech, Steinbach claimed to be “deeply, deeply uncomfortable” with the event and Duncan’s right to speak. She went on to say, "I'm uncomfortable because this event is tearing at the fabric of this community that I care about, and I'm here to support."
Steinbach then whined that she wondered, regarding Duncan’s right to speak, if "the pain that this causes and the division that this causes..." was “worth it”, simply asking “Is the juice worth the squeeze?”
Bear in mind, this isn’t some Twitter (𝕏?) activist, this is a dean at arguably the best law school in the world.
It was called to attention by the aforementioned AP article also called to attention a Democrat named Morgan Ashford, a student at Alabama’s Troy University, who opined that he thinks “there have to be guidelines” around hate speech. “Because some people can go overboard.” While this might hold a degree of truth in some nebulous or cosmic sense, naturally the question is going to be what constitutes “hateful speech”? Even more to the point, one might consider the question of who decides what speech is hateful?
The AP poll also found that “When it comes to protesting speakers, most Americans say it should be peaceful. About 8 in 10 say it’s acceptable to engage in peaceful, non-disruptive protest at a campus event, while just 15% say it’s OK to prevent a speaker from communicating with the audience”. Still, even 15% seems about 14% too high when one considers the enshrinement of freedom of speech in the founding documents of the United States.
That protest at Stanford was, according to the Associated Press, “one of six campus speeches across the U.S. that ended in significant disruption this year, with another 11 last year”. This information was courtesy of the database of a well-regarded free speech organization called the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression or FIRE.
The 2024 College Free Speech Rankings survey, “based on the voices of over 55,000 currently enrolled students at over 250 colleges”, and administered by College Pulse was the largest survey of college students about free speech on their campuses ever conducted.
The survey’s findings showed Harvard University as having received the lowest free speech ranking possible (0.00), followed by the University of Pennsylvania (11.13), the University of South Carolina (12.24), Georgetown University (17.45), and Fordham University (21.72).
The top five ranking schools in the survey were found to be Michigan Technological University (78.01%), Auburn University (72.53), University of New Hampshire (72.17), Oregon State University (71.56), and Florida State University (69.64).
A closing appeal or consideration would have to be that it’s not just the right of the person who speaks to be heard, it is the right of everyone in the audience to listen and to hear. This is one dimension of this discussion that is doted upon far less frequently than one’s right to be heard. Every time you silence somebody, you make yourself a prisoner of your own action because you deny yourself the right to hear something. In other words, your own right to hear and be exposed is as much involved in all these cases, as is the right of the other to voice his or her view.