Thompson Center calls UW student’s free speech attitudes ‘troubling’

Yvonne Kim:

The nonpartisan Thompson Center published a report Thursday characterizing University of Wisconsin-Madison students’ views on free speech as “troubling” and recommended increased First Amendment education on college campuses.

The Thompson Center, named after former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, and the UW Survey Center surveyed 530 undergraduate students, primarily between the ages of 18 to 23, on topics about free speech. Sixty-three percent of respondents agreed to some degree that “the government should be able to punish hate speech,” 53% agreed the government should restrict the speech of “racially insensitive” persons and 35% agreed that a public university should be able to revoke invitations for guest speakers whose speech may be offensive.

Women and liberal respondents were much more likely to support restrictions on speech than men and conservative respondents, respectively.

“These results show that many students find it difficult to distinguish between, on the one hand, the moral concerns of speech or activities that are contested or even detestable and, on the other, the long run value derived from free speech and religious liberty,” the report said. “The results are troublesome for an institution like UW-Madison, which must cultivate an unfettered marketplace of ideas and instantiate and inculcate those values among its students.”

The Thompson Center and its faculty advisory board crafted and approved the survey, which was administered at the Survey Center. Ryan Owens, the Thompson Center’s director, said the report’s findings seem in line with general trends in society, where he said he sees a trend toward increased intolerance “across the board.”

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