- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Early results from a Brookings Institution study on the First Amendment’s standing among college students foreshadow an ominous future for free speech rights.

University of California at Los Angeles professor and Brookings senior fellow John Villasenor released preliminary findings this week on the free exchange of ideas at universities. The scholar said his poll of 1,500 current undergraduate students at U.S. four-year colleges and universities was so “disturbing” that he wanted to “get some of the key results out into the public sphere immediately.”

“Freedom of expression is deeply imperiled on U.S. campuses,” the professor said Monday. “In fact, despite protestations to the contrary (often with statements like ‘we fully support the First Amendment, but…), freedom of expression is clearly not, in practice, available on many campuses, including many public campuses that have First Amendment obligations.”

Some questions included:

  • “Does the First Amendment protect hate speech?”
  • “A student group opposed to the speaker disrupts the speech by loudly and repeatedly shouting so that the audience cannot hear the speaker. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?”
  • “A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking. Do you agree or disagree that the student group’s actions are acceptable?”

Results were as follows:

  • 44% of all students said “hate speech” is not protected by the First Amendment, while 16% answered “don’t know.”
  • 51% of all students said shouting down speakers to silence them in a public forum is acceptable. Over 60% of Democrats agreed compared to roughly 40% for Republicans.
  • 19% of students supported violence as a means of shutting down speech deemed unacceptable. 20% of Democrats, 22% of Republicans, and 16% of Independents supported violence to censor opponents.

“These results are notable for several reasons,” Mr. Villasenor said. “First, the fraction of students who view the use of violence as acceptable is extremely high. While percentages in the high teens and 20s are ‘low’ relative to what they could be, it’s important to remember that this question is asking about the acceptability of committing violence in order to silence speech. Any number significantly above zero is concerning.”

The Brookings survey took place between Aug. 17 and Aug. 31, 2017, and involved a geographically diverse population across 49 states and the District of Columbia.

• Douglas Ernst can be reached at dernst@washingtontimes.com.

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