Press Releases | Free Speech

Fall 2021 Survey of Davidson College Students Reveals High Levels of Self-Censorship, Strong Support for Protecting Free Speech

December 8, 2021 by ACTA

Washington, DC— The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), in partnership with Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse (DFTD), has released a new report that confirms alarming levels of self-censorship among Davidson College students.

The ongoing free speech crisis at America’s colleges and universities—documented by mountains of evidence—is transforming the collegiate experience, and the consequences reverberate throughout society. Students who do not learn free inquiry and civil debate norms on campus graduate ill-equipped for engaged citizenship and collaboration in viewpoint-diverse professional settings. 

ACTA’s new report, based on a College Pulse survey of Davidson College students commissioned by DFTD, documents serious problems: Davidson students frequently self-censor their opinions; they do not perceive a high level of administrative commitment to protecting free speech on campus; and they strongly support action to protect viewpoint diversity and open discourse.

ACTA’s report found that:

  • 71% of Davidson students have felt that they could not express their opinion on a particular subject because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond (37% reported doing so “occasionally”; 19%, “often”; and 15%, “quite often”).
  • Only 33% of students say that it is “extremely” or “very” clear that the college administration protects free speech.
  • 39% of Davidson students say that, if controversy over offensive speech were to occur at Davidson, it is “not very likely” or “not at all likely” that the administration would defend the speaker’s right to express his or her views.

The student survey results confirm the findings of an earlier survey of major donors to Davidson College. As detailed in an October 2021 ACTA report, only 20% of major donors answered that it is “extremely” or “very” clear to them that the college administration protects free speech on campus. Ninety-four percent of respondents said that Davidson’s next president should make freedom of speech and open, civil discourse a high priority.

The results of the Davidson student survey are an urgent call to action at a time when Davidson College is contemplating the adoption of a new campus commitment to freedom of expression and searching for its 17th president. Donors and alumni around the country are mobilizing to safeguard the values of their alma maters.

John Craig,head of Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse, said, “Clearly, there is much work to be done to make the environment for free expression, open discourse, and viewpoint diversity at Davidson what it should be if the college is to maintain its strong record of preparing students to think critically, engage in civil discourse, and be open to exploring ideas beyond their immediate comfort zones.”

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff remarked, “Davidsonians for Freedom of Thought and Discourse has powerfully demonstrated how alumni can—and must—be the guardians of their institution’s values. Far more urgent than their donations are their hearts and minds in protecting the freedom of expression that is the lifeblood of all education worthy of the name.”

To learn more, download the report and the full results of the College Pulse survey (topline results; crosstabs).

For more information or press inquiries, please contact Gabrielle Anglin at, (260) 609-3486 or John Craig at, (347) 604-2179.


Launched in 1995, we are the only organization that works with alumni, donors, trustees, and education leaders across the United States to support liberal arts education, uphold high academic standards, safeguard the free exchange of ideas on campus, and ensure that the next generation receives an intellectually rich, high-quality college education at an affordable price.

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