Plenty of college students haven't gotten caught up fighting the campus culture wars. But according to a new survey, too many hold downright disturbing views when it comes to protecting free speech rights.
A poll published Monday of 1,500 undergraduates conducted by Brookings Institution Fellow John Villasenor probed students for responses to scenarios that occur on an almost-weekly basis during the school year. "A public university invites a very controversial speaker to an on-campus event. The speaker is known for making offensive and hurtful statements," the survey said, asking, "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?"
To that question, a striking 51 percent of students agreed shouting down the speaker was acceptable, including 62 percent of Democratic students and 39 percent of Republicans. The poll's margin of error is 2-6 percent.
That looks like a majority of students siding with the disruptors at Middlebury College last spring who prevented Charles Murray from speaking by shouting throughout the duration of the lecture.
"A student group opposed to the speaker uses violence to prevent the speaker from speaking," the survey continued. "Do you agree or disagree that the student group's actions are acceptable?" Nearly one-in-five students, 19 percent, agreed the use of violence was acceptable.
A staggering 62 percent also agreed that "under the First Amendment, the on-campus organization hosting the event is legally required to ensure that the event includes not only the offensive speaker but also a speaker who presents an opposing view."
That question is particularly relevant, because university administrators often hamper conservative campus lectures by requiring students to allow a liberal speaker to provide "context" or a rebuttal before or after the speech. I've yet to see a liberal lecture subjected to such conditions.
About 44 percent of respondents also claimed the First Amendment does not protect hate speech, with only 39 percent correctly answering that it does. These students are paying a lot of money for an education that hasn't equipped them to demonstrate an understanding of such a basic constitutional principle. But then again, Howard Dean got this one wrong too.
Still, I think the most troubling answers to the survey came in response to this question:
If you had to choose one of the options below, which do you think it is more important for colleges to do?
Option 1: create a positive learning environment for all students by prohibiting certain speech or expression of viewpoints that are offensive or biased against certain groups of people
Option 2: create an open learning environment where students are exposed to all types of speech and viewpoints, even if it means allowing speech that is offensive or biased against certain groups of people?
About 53 percent of students selected the first option, where content is sanitized of any potential to offend "certain people." About 47 percent, a somewhat encouraging portion but one that is still too small, selected Option 2.
Many campuses already resemble Option 1, and many others openly aspire to create such an environment. But because even the idea of Option 2 could be considered offensive on a campus where professors and administrators accept or indulge students who claim "free speech" is a concept rooted in racism and white supremacy, students increasingly won't even be given the opportunity to learn that it exists.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.