Press Releases | Free Speech

New Survey of OSU Students by ACTA Reveals Disturbing Trends in Self-Censorship on Campus

June 7, 2023

WASHINGTON, DC—The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has released the results of a survey that examined students’ attitudes toward free expression and viewpoint diversity at The Ohio State University (OSU).

ACTA’s survey, conducted with College Pulse during the 2022–23 academic year, collected 2,003 unique responses. We found that students are eager to shout down guest speakers, prone to self-censorship, and unclear about the university administration’s support for free speech.

OSU’s website states that the school is “steadfastly committed to protecting the First Amendment right to free speech and expression on our campuses. Encouraging individuals to share their varying thoughts and perspectives enriches the university environment and can allow community members to experience new ideas.” Yet, ACTA’s survey data reveal that many OSU students do not feel encouraged to express themselves—or to allow others to express themselves—freely.

Key findings:

  • Thirty-five percent of students said that it is “always acceptable” or “sometimes acceptable” to shout down an invited speaker.
  • Forty-five percent of conservative students said they do not speak up at least several times a month because they fear their opinion would be unwelcome, compared to just 16% of liberal students.
  • Seven in 10 liberal students (71%) reported having few to no friends with different political beliefs. Only 1 in 3 conservative students (33%) said the same.
  • One-third of all students (32%) and half of conservative students said it is “not very clear” or “not at all clear” that the university administration protects free speech.

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff remarked, “A university should be a sanctuary where the free exchange of ideas thrives, and viewpoint diversity isn’t just tolerated but encouraged. Instead, the cultures on American university campuses are increasingly characterized by fear, intimidation, and ideological conformity. The Buckeye state’s flagship university has a chance to reverse that trend and right the ship, but it must act with purpose and urgency. If OSU takes these findings seriously, it can be a model for free expression and intellectual diversity on campus and truly educate for citizenry.”

“Our survey suggests that the OSU administration needs to do more to encourage free expression and intellectual diversity on campus,” stated ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom, Dr. Steven McGuire. “Too many students are self-censoring, and too many are willing to stop others from sharing their views. By surveying over 2,000 students, we heard from a significant number of self-identified conservative students, and it is clear that they experience a campus that is less friendly to them and their views compared to their liberal peers. OSU should seek to rectify this imbalance and make its campus more open to diverse viewpoints by implementing the recommendations in ACTA’s Gold Standard for Freedom of Expression™.

The survey report can be found here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Gabrielle Anglin
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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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