A survey of nearly 500 college presidents by the American Council of Education (ACE) found that a plurality believe the divide over free speech vs. campus inclusion is likely to worsen nationally. In addition, a majority said they are worried about the potential for violence to break out over these issues. The survey found that 39% of respondents believed the situation would worsen nationally, while 24% felt it would remain the same and 23% said it would improve. Here’s a graph created by ACE:

But a strong majority felt either somewhat or very concerned over the connection between these issues and potential violence (70% were either very or somewhat concerned):

The poll question here isn’t very specific but it seems to be suggesting these are concerns about avoiding violence on their own campuses of the kind we’ve seen at Berkeley and many other schools. The good news in this poll is that nearly everyone gave the right answer on free speech itself.

Almost all presidents at both public and private institutions agree on the role of higher education in protecting free speech. An overwhelming 96 percent said it is more important for colleges to allow students to be exposed to all types of speech even if they may find it offensive or biased than to protect students by prohibiting offensive or biased speech.

One thing that stands out in the responses is a sharp divide between how college presidents think things are going at their own schools and how they are going elsewhere in the nation. For instance, 49% of respondents felt students at their own schools were doing a good job at listening to other points of view. But they only felt that way about 25% of students at other colleges. The divide was even more dramatic on the following question: How are free speech and campus inclusion working on your campus vs. other schools? As you can see 79% of college presidents overall felt things were going well at their school but 87% thought things were going poorly nationally.

Obviously, something doesn’t quite add up here. I can think of a few possible explanations. It could be the case that college presidents have a clear-eyed view of their own surroundings but have been influenced by the media to think things out there are worse for everyone else.

On the other hand, it seems just as plausible that respondents are offering an overly rosy assessment of their own schools simply because that’s part of their job as college presidents, i.e. to promote their own institution as above average in all things.

Put it this way, would any college president want to admit that his school has a problem? I think the answer is obviously no, and yet 21% did say they see a conflict at their own institutions. That was especially true at 4-year colleges (where the response was 25%). Of the two possible explanations for this divide, I think the idea that college presidents are looking at their own institutions in the best possible light while putting the problem nearly all of them acknowledge exists off on other institutions.