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Survey: Most UW students afraid to express views in class


Most students who responded to a survey about free speech on University of Wisconsin campuses said they're afraid to express their views on controversial topics in class because they fear other students won't agree or it could hurt their grades, according to key findings released Wednesday.

A third of respondents, meanwhile, said they've felt pressure from an instructor to agree with a certain viewpoint. Almost half said they don't agree or only agree a little that administrators should bar controversial speakers if some students find the message offensive.

Free speech issues have come to the forefront in academia, as Republicans push schools to crack down on students who disrupt conservative speakers and to allow conservative speakers on campuses. The GOP also has maintained that liberal professors are indoctrinating students or making them feel uncomfortable about expressing conservative views.

The survey findings are certain to provide talking points for Wisconsin's Republican legislators looking to cut UW funding in the next state budget.

UW-Stout's Menard Center for Public Policy and Service sent the survey to undergraduates at all 13 UW System campuses last fall. The Menard family, a major Republican donor that founded the Menards home improvement store chain, donated $2.6 million to the center in 2019.

UW-Whitewater Interim Chancellor Jim Henderson was so incensed with plans for the survey that he resigned over it in April. He said then that he was upset over then-Interim System President Michael Falbo's decision to send out the survey after initially deciding that institutions wouldn't do it. He accused Falbo of changing his mind because he feared political consequences from Republican lawmakers concerned about campus leaders stamping out conservative viewpoints.

Falbo countered that the university board overseeing human research had approved the survey.

Current System President Jay Rothman tweeted key results from the survey Wednesday ahead of a news conference and panel discussion on the findings at UW-Oshkosh.

He also tweeted that more than 10,000 students responded, but he didn't offer a specific number. About 161,000 students attend UW System institutions.

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