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Report: Majority of Americans say colleges aren’t properly teaching ‘the value of free speech’

When it comes to free speech, a majority of Americans think our country’s colleges are blowing it.

That’s a takeaway from the Cato Institute’s new report, “The State of Free Speech and Tolerance in America.” The libertarian think tank’s report gives a broad look at attitudes toward free speech in America, and includes polling on how Americans perceive the state of free speech on college campuses.

The findings show that many Americans are disappointed with how higher education is handling the issue.

From the report:

Two-thirds (66%) of Americans say colleges and universities aren’t doing enough to teach young Americans today about the value of free speech. When asked which is more important, 65% say colleges should “expose students to all types of viewpoints, even if they are offensive or biased against certain groups.” About a third (34%) say colleges should “prohibit offensive speech that is biased against certain groups.”

Regarding the trend of college students shutting down controversial speakers, 76 percent said that’s “part of a ‘broader pattern’ of how college students deal with offensive ideas.” Additionally, 65 percent of respondents said students who participate in such protests should be punished.

Despite those figures, the report also notes that “about half of Americans with college experience think a wide variety [of speakers] should not be allowed to speak at their college.” For example, 51 percent said a speaker “who says that all white people are racist” shouldn’t speak at their university and 50 percent were against giving a platform to a speaker who doesn’t believes Muslims should be allowed to enter the United States.

Regarding viewpoint bias on campus, 20 percent of college students polled said they “believe their college or university faculty has a balanced mix of political views.” Unsurprisingly, 39 percent of the students said most professors are liberal.

Another interesting finding from the poll touches on the topic of microaggressions, a concept popular on college campuses.  The poll found that a number of microaggressions “aren’t considered offensive by most African Americans and Latinos.” For example, an overwhelming majority of African-Americans and Latinos said they don’t find the term “America is a melting pot” to be offensive.

Microaggressions are part of a number of terms like “white privilege” and “safe space” that have been used on college campuses lately, but the report notes they aren’t trending with the general public:

A majority (66%) of Americans have heard of safe spaces, but half or less are familiar with other social justice terms and phrases popular on college campuses today, including: cultural appropriation (50%), trigger warnings (49%), “check your privilege” (48%), microaggressions (43%), and “mansplaining” (41%).

Read the full report.

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