Commentary: The Inevitable Problem of Self-Censorship

John Wilson
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: Self-censorship, we are regularly told, is a great evil afflicting our colleges and our society. Multiple surveys show that a majority of college students self-censor, and these surveys are often cited to prove a crisis in campus free speech. A recent survey by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education found that 83 percent of college students reported engaging in self-censorship, a figure reported with dire alarm and a sharp increase from the 60 percent who reported self-censorship in 2020.

But that increase could have occurred solely because the question was changed from a yes/no answer to a “how often” response—and included the 30 percent who said they “rarely” self-censored and the 32 percent who only did so “occasionally.” Do such surveys really prove a crisis of self-censorship if the responses are so easy to manipulate?