A new poll commissioned by the Huffington Post finds that a majority of Americans favor efforts to check hate speech on campus, even if it means limiting the free exchange of ideas. But a plurality of Americans also view the spread of special “diversity offices” on university campuses as a waste of money.
The poll was conducted online by the pollster YouGov from Dec. 16-17 and was released this week.
Overall, 53 percent of respondents said colleges should punish students who “make racially offensive statements,” while only 28 percent were opposed. Among Democrats, 71 percent supported such restrictions and just 9 percent were opposed, while for Republicans the split was 40-44. Racial minorities, younger adults, and those from low-income backgrounds were all more likely to favor tighter regulations on speech.
In a similar vein, 43 percent of respondents said creating an environment free of discrimination should be a higher priority than preserving an absolute right to free speech, while 38 percent took the opposite view.
The poll also asked whether colleges have a responsibility to teach students about issues relating to racism. A slim plurality of 45 percent answered yes, with 41 percent opposed. Interestingly, support for this was concentrated among the middle-aged, while both the old and young thought such lessons were unwarranted.
But despite their general willingness to instruct students about racism and punish racist statements, Americans are also skeptical of the establishment of dedicated diversity offices, which exist major universities all over the country. Thirty-two percent of respondents said diversity offices were a useful investment, but 42 percent said they were a waste of money. Once again, a strong demographic divide was evident, as 54 percent of Democrats supported diversity offices but only 13 percent of Republicans agreed.
The poll results come after an autumn full of repeated clashes over how colleges should address matters of race and diversity. At the University of Missouri, Princeton University, and dozens of other schools, activists have called on administrators to hire more diversity personnel and pump more resources into initiatives such as recruiting black students and offering financial aid targeted at racial minorities. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, lawmakers have been sharply criticizing the University of Tennessee’s $5.5 million in annual diversity spending after an incident where the school recommended that students use gender-neutral pronouns such as “xe” and “xyr.”
The poll had a sample population of 1000 adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.