Survey: Many Yale students reluctant to express opinions on campus
NEW HAVEN >> While a large majority of Yale University undergraduates believe the university should promote free speech and diverse views, many are reluctant to express their own opinions in class, according to a new survey by the William F. Buckley, Jr. Program at Yale.
According to the survey, conducted by the polling firm McLaughlin & Associates, 42 percent of students are “not comfortable” expressing their opinions about politics, race, religion and gender, either in class or on campus, and 70 percent of students have experienced political bias in the classroom from students, professors or teachers.
This is accompanied by a belief by 88 percent of survey respondents that their professors are liberal, compared with 6 percent who see them as moderate and just 1 percent who see them as conservative.
“I see that there’s good news and some bad news in the survey,” said Lauren Noble, founder and executive director of the Buckley program. “None of this is particularly shocking, given stories that I’ve heard from current students but also headlines that we’ve seen in the national news.”
In answer to the question, “Have you felt intimidated to share your ideas, opinions or beliefs in class because they were different than those of your professors and teaching fellows?” 45 percent said they had, but 76 percent of conservatives said they had felt intimidated, compared with 62 percent of moderates and 26 percent of liberals.
On the most publicized issue on campus in the last two years, the renaming of Calhoun College, 67 percent agreed with Yale’s decision to change the name to Grace Murray Hopper College, a decision which followed a months-long process in which a committee was commissioned with drawing up principles about renaming. John C. Calhoun, class of 1804, was U.S. vice president and a senator from South Carolina and a vocal and ardent promoter of slavery.
Yale President Peter Salovey originally announced in April 2016 that the name would remain but then, as protests grew on campus and spilled into the New Haven community, Salovey formed the committee, as well as a three-professor panel to apply the committee’s recommendations to Calhoun. The announcement to rename the college for Hopper was made in February.
Only 13 percent of those surveyed, however, believe additional names should be changed. Eight percent said the name of the university itself should be changed, with 84 percent opposed.
Elihu Yale, who helped finance the original Collegiate School of Connecticut, benefited from the slave trade through dealings with the East India Company, as Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway pointed out in his 2015 freshman address.
“There’s also some positive takeaway here,” Noble said. “For example, for the most part students across the board want intellectual diversity on campus.” According to the survey, 84 percent believe “Yale should always do its best to promote intellectual diversity and free speech by allowing a wide range of people with differing views and opinions to speak on campus.”
Also, “by a large margin [72 percent], students opposed having speech codes,” Noble said. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, defines a speech code as “any university regulation or policy that prohibits expression that would be protected by the First Amendment in society at large. Any policy — such as a harassment policy, a protest and demonstration policy, or an IT acceptable use policy — can be a speech code if it prohibits protected speech or expression.”
“I would say that from the survey, 60 percent of students approve of the job that Yale is doing when it comes to promoting free speech on campus, but among conservative students, only 31 percent approved,” Noble said.
“I personally think that Yale could be doing a much better job to promote free speech on campus,” she said, giving as an example an open letter the Buckley program wrote “asking the candidates for the upcoming trustee election, which concludes on May 21 … to participate in a forum on free expression and intellectual diversity on campus. We’ve had 450 alumni sign onto that letter.” The trustees are known as the Yale Corporation.
Also, the Yale Daily News attempted to interview the candidates but the administration “basically imposed a gag rule where the candidates aren’t allowed to comment on what their views and values are.”
The program’s website refers to Buckley as “the father of modern conservatism,” but Noble said “Our mission statement is to promote intellectual diversity on Yale’s campus. … There is political diversity within our ranks and we do host … debates between liberals and conservatives.”
Buckley, who graduated from Yale in 1950, published “God and Man at Yale” in 1951, criticizing what he saw as a left-wing climate on campus. He was also host of the television show “Firing Line” for 35 years, which pitted guests of varying views in debate.
McLaughlin & Associates surveyed 872 Yale undergraduates between April 17 and 23 through an online survey promoted through emails and Facebook. Students who completed the survey were offered a $5 gift card. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.3 percent.
Call Ed Stannard at 203-680-9382.