- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 30, 2002

College freshmen are becoming slightly more liberal on issues like homosexual rights, while maintaining their conservative stance on drug legalization and the death penalty, according to a UCLA survey released yesterday.
More than half, or 57 percent, of the freshmen questioned last fall said they believe that same-sex couples should have the right to marital status, compared with 50 percent who thought that way in 1997, the survey showed.
Also, 76 percent of freshmen do not support laws prohibiting homosexual relationships, compared with 73 percent last year, the survey showed.
"In short, what we have been seeing in the past few years is a broad-based trend toward greater liberalism on practically every attitudinal question in the survey," said Alexander Astin, professor at UCLA's Graduate School of Education and Information Studies and founding director of the survey.
However, groups like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) argue the survey says nothing of the kind. Rather, group members said the survey shows that students are libertarians, who care about privacy and freedom.
"This poll shows that today's freshmen are very concerned with individual rights, are fired up about liberty and understand the need for limited government," said Thor Halvorssen, FIRE's executive director. "This is not about whether they are taking a liberal or conservative position. This poll shows that students want equal justice."
The survey also showed that 36 percent of today's freshmen agree marijuana should be legalized, while 64 percent disagree. Last year, 34 percent agreed that marijuana should be legalized. Also, 75 percent believe employers should be allowed to require drug testing of employees or job applicants. Last year, 76 percent supported testing.
More than half, or 68 percent, of freshmen oppose abolishing the death penalty, while 32 percent advocate ending capital punishment, the survey showed. Last year, 31 percent supported ending the death penalty.
The fall 2001 survey gave multiple-choice questions to 281,064 entering freshmen at 421 of the country's colleges and universities. The students were given propositions such as "marijuana should be legalized" and then given the choice of "strongly agree," "agree," "disagree" or "strongly disagree."
The survey was conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA's School of Education and Information Studies, with the American Council on Education.
Most of the freshmen, or 49 percent, surveyed said they would describe themselves as "middle of the road" politically, the survey showed. About 29 percent said they consider themselves as "liberal" and 20 percent call themselves "conservative."
The survey shows signs of renewed political interest and activism among college freshmen.
Nearly 20 percent of freshmen said they have discussed politics in the last year, compared with 16 percent in 2000. Some 47 percent said they had participated in organized demonstrations during the past year, compared with 45 percent in 2000.
Almost 15 percent reported they had no religious preference. The survey also showed there was a slight decline in the number of students who pray or meditate at least once a week, from 67 percent in 2000 to 65 percent last year.

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