Mar 3, 2022 - News

Most Iowa college students feel free to share opinions in class

Illustration of multiple text speech bubbles on a screen

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A "free speech" survey conducted by Iowa's public universities shows that students feel the most comfortable expressing their opinions in classrooms — and that comfort drops the further they get from campus.

Why it matters: Protecting free speech on college campuses has become a conservative rallying point in recent years, but the survey indicates that for the most part, Iowa, ISU and UNI students believe they can share their thoughts in class.

State of play: The email survey, which was commissioned by the Iowa Board of Regents, was conducted at the end of 2021.

  • About 10% participated, and the majority of students, 78%, agreed they could express their opinions in lectures.
  • That number dropped the greater the distance from classrooms: 74% said so for on campus, 68% off campus and 60% on social media.

Of note: Iowa students felt more comfortable sharing their thoughts in class in comparison to a national survey by the Knight Foundation/Ipsos — though the question was phrased differently.

Between the lines: The survey is part of the Iowa board's larger effort to protect free speech after Republican lawmakers accused the colleges of "cancel culture" last year, following incidents at each university where conservative students said they felt restricted.

  • Republican lawmakers didn't give the colleges any additional funding last session — a move Democrats accused as political.
A free speech survey by the BOR
A chart showing the percentage of students who felt comfortable expressing their opinions in different environments. Chart courtesy of Iowa BOR

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