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University presidents think everything is swell on their campuses: survey

Inside Higher Ed’s 14th annual survey of university presidents reveals that, as a group, these administrators think their own universities are doing just fine on the big issues roiling campus life, including race and free speech.

But they think other universities might not be doing so well, according to the survey, which queried 380 presidents from 206 public and 174 private universities.

Ninety-three percent think their own university applies free speech equally across the board. In contrast, only 54 percent said the same about all universities.

Eighty-three percent of presidents say race relations at their campus are good or excellent — while only 1 percent described them as poor on their own campus. In contrast, 56 percent described race relations across higher education as merely fair.

The survey results appear to suggest that presidents see the problems at other universities far more easily than in their own backyard.

Guilbert Hentschke, dean emeritus of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California, told Inside Higher Ed the results show “it’s a president’s way of saying it hasn’t been a big problem on my campus,” but that they may view other controversies at different schools as bigger issues.

The survey also addressed many other topics, including confidence in Artificial Intelligence. The results were mixed, with 50 percent somewhat or very optimistic about the rise of AI and 30 percent more concerned about it.

“The question then becomes, ‘How do we get in front of it, how do we actually address this issue head on?’ Our responsibility as educators is to prepare students for the future,” David Wu, president of Baruch College, told Inside Higher Ed.

On another topic, more than half of the campus presidents are worried about the upcoming election and what a Trump win would mean for higher education. The survey results cited concerns about diversity, equity, and inclusion, as well as free inquiry and civil dialogue.

G. David Gearhart, chancellor emeritus of the University of Arkansas, told IHE that “most college presidents hope Biden will be re-elected, not because of what the incumbent brings to the table but rather out of fear that second Trump term would elevate culture war battles on campus and beyond, given past skirmishes and recent campaign rhetoric.”

Still, only 33 percent of presidents expressed any degree of satisfaction with the Biden administration and what it has done for higher education, and 41 percent are somewhat or completely dissatisfied. Presidents of private institutions are significantly more dissatisfied than those at public institutions, the survey found.

Regarding the state of free speech on campus, while many schools have had raucous protests, often with virulent antisemitism, since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorism attack on Israel, “most presidents (82 percent) believe the climate for open inquiry and dialogue on their campus is good or excellent. However, only 30 percent said the same holds true for higher education as a whole,” the survey found.

Finally, 66 percent of presidents worry about waning public confidence in higher education.

“They cited the top reasons for public skepticism as affordability (36 percent), concerns about workforce preparation (27 percent), and perceived ideological bias (16 percent),” Inside Higher Ed reported.

MORE: Researcher exposes harms of DEI trainings after colleague’s suicide

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