Is it decline? We all assume that campuses are getting more fascist towards speech, but I don’t know. It may be that there are more students and locals willing to behave violently to silence a speaker nowadays but whether that means the share who are willing to *condone* violence is higher now than it was, say, in the late 1960s is unclear. It’s counterintuitive but conceivable that colleges are more extreme at the fringes but also more tolerant across the mass of the student population.
I know. I doubt it as much as you do.
Whether this represents decline or not, the numbers from John Villasenor’s survey of college kids are grim. And not just on the violence question, although that’s the result that everyone will ooh and ahh over:
Two numbers jump out there beside the ominous topline figure. One: Contra conventional wisdom, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to support using violence to shut down a speaker. That could be an artifact of sample size — as you’d expect, the number of Republicans in a sample of college students is small, which means the margin of error for Republican responses is high. But if that number’s accurate, your guess is as good as mine as to why campus GOPers would support an ethic that will inevitably end up silencing their side but not the left. Maybe it’s an “eye for an eye” thing, with Republicans believing it’s now fair game for them to shut down liberals if they can muster the numbers after liberals have shut down Republicans so many times. Pitiful, whatever the explanation.
Two: How ’bout that gender gap, huh? Thirty percent of men are willing to condone violence for the “heckler’s veto” but just 10 percent of women are. If this were a purely ideological thing, with leftists in favor of beating a speaker into silence, you wouldn’t expect that sort of gap. Young women are as reliably Democratic as young men are, if not more so. The stereotype that women are naturally less prone to violence than men are may be the default explanation. Relatedly, women are also less likely than men to say it’s acceptable to shout down a speaker: Male students split 57/43 in favor while women narrowly oppose the idea, 47/53. Pathetic numbers for both, but the girls have their heads screwed on tighter than the boys do on free-speech issues.
Mostly. Before you go applauding women, check out the gender gap on this question:
By double-digit margins, men correctly say the First Amendment does protect “hate speech” while women incorrectly say it doesn’t. (Thanks to the lopsided numbers among women, in fact, a plurality of college students overall says “hate speech” is unprotected.) Women might not be willing to see a speaker hauled away from the mic by an angry mob but a near-majority seem to be okay with the idea of the police doing it. Women are also just about as likely as men to say they’d prefer a “positive” environment on campus that prohibits offensive or biased viewpoints to an “open” environment that allows such speech. Men endorse the first option 55/45 while women support it 52/48. Democrats overall prefer it 61/39, because of course they do.
If you want to see how these realities are playing out on an actual campus, go read the new Middlebury interim policies for speakers, which explicitly contemplate canceling events if the threat of violence is so high that the safety of people attending the event can’t be guaranteed. The fact that an American university would need to plan for that contingency in the form of an official policy shows you how bad things have gotten. Especially at Middlebury.