Press Releases | Freedom of Expression

New Survey of UT—Austin Students by ACTA Reveals Disturbing Trends in Self-Censorship on Campus 

June 21, 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 University of Texas (UT)–Austin.

ACTA’s survey, conducted with College Pulse during the 2022–23 academic year, collected 1,003 unique responses.

On November 17, 2022, the University of Texas System (UT) Board of Regents took meaningful action by adopting the Chicago Principles on Freedom of Expression. While this was an important and welcome signal of the regents’ commitment to campus free speech, ACTA’s survey data reveal that many undergraduate Longhorns do not feel comfortable expressing unpopular ideas, and many students express support for disrupting guest speakers. There is more work to do at UT–Austin to restore a culture of free expression on that campus and perhaps systemwide.

Key findings:

  • Only 6 in 10 students (59%) say it is never acceptable to use violence to disrupt a campus speaker. Eighteen percent say it is always or sometimes acceptable.
  • Only one-fifth of students (21%) say shouting down a campus speaker is never acceptable. Forty-four percent say it is always or sometimes acceptable.
  • Half of all students (47%) and 70% of conservative students report feeling like they could not express themselves at least occasionally.
  • Seven in 10 liberal students (71%) report having few to no friends with different political beliefs. Only 1 in 5 conservative students (21%) say the same.

ACTA President Michael Poliakoff remarked, “We are seeing meaningful breakthroughs in the Texas capital. However, the political divide in our nation is widening, and our survey suggests one of the catalysts of polarization is happening right on campus, where friendship and positive interaction should build understanding. There is clearly quite a distance to travel to restore intellectual diversity on campus and relearn what it means to engage in civil discourse. The regents are firmly on the path of embracing best practices for building campuses that—to borrow the words of the UT System—promote ‘fearless freedom of debate and deliberation.’”

“The University of Texas System Board of Regents should be commended for adopting the Chicago Principles last fall,” stated ACTA’s Paul & Karen Levy Fellow in Campus Freedom, Dr. Steven McGuire. “But our survey shows that more needs to be done to create a culture of free expression and viewpoint diversity at UT–Austin. It is especially disturbing to see how many students say it is acceptable to use violence to stop someone from speaking. A university campus should be a refuge from threats of violence where people can freely and openly debate ideas and exchange views. Leadership at UT–Austin should take further steps to educate its students about the importance of free expression while also establishing policies that protect it and promote viewpoint diversity. ACTA’s Gold Standard for Freedom of Expression™ has tools to help rectify this imbalance and make its campus more open to diverse viewpoints.”

The survey report can be found here.

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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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