UW System to launch student free speech survey on Monday after delay

MADISON, Wis. — The University of Wisconsin System will launch its free speech survey on Monday after it was delayed for months.

A random sample of students in the UW System will be asked to complete the survey, which includes questions about students’ attitudes toward free speech, viewpoint diversity, and self-censorship on campus.

“The UW System is committed to being a marketplace of ideas, a place where nuanced and complicated issues can be discussed openly, freely, and with civility,” UW System President Jay Rothman said Friday. “We want to understand what the climate is on our campuses around freedom of expression, around concerns around self censorship, around students’ understanding about whether or not they can have a civil dialogue.”

The survey was originally scheduled to be sent out last spring but was delayed after UW-Whitewater Interim Chancellor Jim Henderson resigned over the questionnaire.

I thought that stifling or not sending out that survey was essentially ignoring the problem,” said UW Madison sophomore Jonathan Draeger. “People don’t feel, especially certain viewpoints don’t feel, that they can represent themselves both in the classroom and on campus.”

Draeger says he hopes the survey results will encourage faculty to make changes in the classroom.

“If professors see, oh 30% of my students, 40% of my students don’t feel that they can express what they think in the classroom, I think that’s where the real change could come,” said Draeger.

Monday’s launch comes just weeks after Matt Walsh’s contentious speaking engagement on the UW-Madison campus, which drew protestors against the conservative commentator and resulted in vandalism to campus buildings.

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“I think the Matt Walsh example was one in which the system worked exactly the way it should,” Rothman said. “There were people who viewed the world differently than he did, and they expressed their views, he expressed his views. Ultimately, having that diversity of viewpoint is important to our students, so that they can see various perspectives, and then make up their own mind.”

Rothman also announced the creation of several other civil dialogue and citizenship initiatives like the creation of the Wisconsin Institute for Citizenship and Civil Dialogue and a sponsorship of the Wisconsin Civics Games.

The survey will be open until December 14 and results are expected to be available in January.