With safe spaces, trigger warnings, and microaggressions the norm on many college campuses today, it’s not surprising that a recent Gallup/Knight Foundation poll revealed a growing number of college students are concerned about hostility toward free speech on campus — especially students with conservative viewpoints.
The poll, released on Monday, found that 61 percent of students in 2017 said the climate on college campuses “prevents some people from saying things they believe because others might find them offensive.”
This is an increase of 7 percentage points from 2016.
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The poll also indicated that only 70 percent of the 3,014 U.S. college students who responded favor having open campus environments where all types of speech are allowed — a decrease of 8 percentage points from 2016.
At the very least, this downward trend is disturbing and could eventually lead to more instances of what is known as the heckler’s veto — or the suppression of speech by the government because of the possibility of a violent reaction by hecklers.
A similar scenario nearly played out in Seattle last month when the University of Washington, a public institution, tried to flex its muscles against the UW College Republicans group by imposing a hefty $17,000 security fee for a free speech rally.
“Forcing the College Republicans to pay a fee based on the potential reaction of people opposed to its viewpoints amounts to an unconstitutional heckler’s veto,” wrote William Becker, the attorney for the UW College Republicans, at the time.
Becker, president and CEO of Freedom X, a nonprofit law firm that supports conservative causes, filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming the security fee is unconstitutional and violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
The poll also revealed that 92 percent of respondents said that political liberals are “able to freely and openly express their views,” compared to 69 percent who said the same about political conservatives.
Case in point: Lake Ingle, a religious studies major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is currently being singled out and punished for his binary and biblical perspectives on gender for expressing conservative views in class, as LifeZette reported yesterday.
“If universities remain unbalanced in their influence, they will cease to be universities.”
“As many of you reading this know, I am battling my university to stay in a major required course that if I do not complete I will be unable to graduate as scheduled. During this ordeal I’ve hired a lawyer which has cost me about $1,000. Also, if the university decides to rule in favor of the professor and remove me from the course, permanently, I will have to pay for an online class in order to graduate,” reads a post on Ingle’s Facebook page (since deleted on advice from counsel), pertaining to his GoFundMe effort.
His free speech cause seems to be resonating. In just two days, he’s raised $980 of his goal of $1,000.
LifeZette reached out to Ingle for comment, and he shared this update on Wednesday, March 14: “The statistics [from the Gallup poll] are one of the main reasons I felt so strongly about speaking up in class, as well as responding to the questions of the press. If universities remain unbalanced in their influence, they will cease to be universities.”
As for that Gallup poll, it is brimming with irony.
“Republican students who are less able to freely and openly express their views on campus are feeling [that] they are more empowered to speak freely than Democrat students,” said Nicole Neily, president of the free speech watchdog Speech First, according to Campus Reform.
Elizabeth Economou is a former CNBC staff writer and adjunct professor. Follow her on Twitter. This article has been updated.