Is free speech in danger on university campus? Some preliminary evidence from a most likely case

Revers, Matthias ; Traunmüller, Richard

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URN: urn:nbn:de:bsz:180-madoc-587049
Document Type: Article
Year of publication: 2020
The title of a journal, publication series: Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie : KZfSS
Volume: 72
Issue number: 3
Page range: 471-497
Place of publication: Wiesbaden
Publishing house: Springer VS
ISSN: 0023-2653 , 1861-891X
Related URLs:
Publication language: English
Institution: Außerfakultäre Einrichtungen > Mannheim Centre for European Social Research - Research Department B
School of Social Sciences > Political Science, Empirical Democracy Research (Traunmüller 2017-)
Pre-existing license: Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Subject: 320 Political science
Abstract: Although universities play a key role in questions of free speech and political viewpoint diversity, they are often associated with the opposite of a free exchange of ideas: a proliferation of restrictive campus speech codes, violent protests against controversial speakers and even the firing of inconvenient professors. For some observers these trends on university campuses are a clear indicator of the dire future for freedom of speech. Others view these incidents as scandalized singular events and regard campus intolerance as a mere myth. We take an empirical look at some of the claims in the debate and present original survey evidence from a most likely case: the leftist social science studentship at Goethe University Frankfurt. Our results show that taking offense is a common experience and that a sizable number of students are in favor of restricting speech on campus. We also find evidence for conformity pressures on campus and that both the desire to restrict speech and the reluctance to speak openly differ significantly across political ideology. Left-leaning students are less likely to tolerate controversial viewpoints and right-leaning students are more likely to self-censor on politically sensitive issues such as gender, immigration, or sexual and ethnic minorities. Although preliminary, these findings may have implications for the social sciences and academia more broadly.

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