A College Free Speech Survey, co-authored by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), RealClearEducation, research firm College Pulse and the libertarian Charles Koch Institute, claimed to find that free speech protections at America’s higher education institutions are lacking.
The survey included 19,969 undergraduate students at 55 colleges and it claimed to be one of the largest surveys ever conducted among college students about free speech.
However, not all who read the rankings agreed with the methodology or results. John K. Wilson at the Academe Blog criticized the survey as incomplete due to several factors:
- Too much weight given to responses to six statements to determine rankings
- Survey questions were not impartial, but partial toward conservative perceptions of academia
- Rankings favored conservative-leaning institutions over liberal institutions
For example, Wilson pointed out that 40% of the college rankings derived from the following question:
“Would you support or oppose your school ALLOWING a speaker on campus who promotes the following idea:”
- “Abortion should be completely illegal?”
- “Black Lives Matter is a hate group?”
- “Censoring the news media is necessary?”
- “Some racial groups are less intelligent than others?”
- “The U.S. should support Israeli military policy?”
- “Transgender people have a mental disorder?”
Wilson’s problem with the question was that it was a biased question and that it sounded like “things conservatives say.” He also pointed out that the survey did not weigh two questions about speakers who could offend conservatives. The survey also favored conservative-leaning institutions with more favorable scores, such as the University of Chicago’s tolerance factor among conservatives of 71.4 (on a scale of 1-100) compared to liberals 52.6 rating. Wilson added that the University of Chicago achieved the top rank, but that ranking contradicted the fact that its surveyed students had the “highest proportion of students who thought it was acceptable to tear down flyers you don’t like.”
Surveys, like polls, have flaws and are far from perfect. But Wilson’s criticisms are reasonable because a survey on free speech should do better about weighing questions and not excluding questions from its rankings. In short, the College Free Speech Survey has a questionable standing because it did not create a sense of fairness or equity for liberals or independents and solely focused on conservative points of view.
Rankings and survey should be impartial and easy to understand, and it appeared that the College Free Speech Survey did not satisfy either conditions.