New York, NY, 22 March 2023 — Heterodox Academy (HxA), a non-partisan organization dedicated to strengthening institutions of higher education by advocating for open inquiry, viewpoint diversity, and constructive disagreement, just released the results of their Campus Expression Survey (CES), a benchmarking survey conducted annually to assess the state of campus expression from the student perspective across US campuses.
HxA’s CES, now in its fourth year, surveyed 1,565 full-time students attending four-year universities across the US. The report again demonstrates the wide-spread problem of self-censorship by students. But year-over-year results suggest a small and hopeful trend reversal indicative that viewpoint diversity and open inquiry may be improving from the student perspective.
“It’s encouraging to see signs of hope that the trend of self-censorship may be reversing on campus,” said Nicole Barbaro, Director of Communications at Heterodox Academy and co-author of the CES report, “But we still have work to do as a community of academics to ensure that classrooms and campus are places that we can discuss freely and inquire openly without fear of retribution from our peers.”
Key data points from the 2022 Campus Expression Survey:
- 58.5% of students in 2022 reported being reluctant to discuss at least one of the five controversial topics asked about — a slight decrease from 60% in 2021.
- 63.2% of students agreed that the climate on their campus prevents people from saying things they believe because others might find those views offensive.
- Year-over-year data shows that fewer students reported being reluctant to discuss controversial topics in 2022 compared with 2020 — an encouraging trend.
- 40.7% of students were reluctant to discuss politics, 28.6% of students were reluctant to discuss religion, and slightly more than one in five students were reluctant to discuss sexual orientation, race, and gender.
- The primary reported reason for why students self-censor on controversial topics in the classroom was fear of negative reactions or retribution from fellow students.
- Students who reported high levels of interaction with fellow students were less likely to self-censor in class compared to students who reported low levels of peer interaction.
The report also highlights several factors associated with students’ reluctance to share their views. The primary reported reason for why students self-censor on controversial topics in the classroom was fear of negative reactions or retribution from fellow students. This is further supported by the survey finding that over 62% of students report that their campus climate stifles viewpoint expression out of fear that others on campus will find their views “offensive”.
“Students most fear retribution from other students, in the classroom and across campus. This shows what a shadow threat the issue of free expression is,” said John Tomasi, President of Heterodox Academy, “Taken together, the results of this year’s CES report underscore the importance of working together with, and empowering, our members to change the norms of engagement in each classroom and across every campus.”
The 2022 CES report also offers actionable strategies that faculty and administrators can adopt, along with resources available from HxA, to improve campus expression in their classrooms and on their campus.