2019-20 Free Speech

Free speech on campus?

Starting in 2019, Constitutional Studies at Carroll is leading a program on the question of how diverse societies can ensure free speech, addressing the question, "Free Speech vs. Civility?"  This includes a) two panels with state and national experts, b) an effort to gather data on the college climate for freedom of speech, and c) essay prizes and a reading group.  These activities are supported by a grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.


The first panel, on October 22, 2019, addresses the topic of whether there is a free speech crisis on college campuses in Montana. The state legislature passed a bill on free speech, but it was vetoed by the Governor. Here is a short video with highlights from the event. The video features the bill's sponsor, supporters and critics.

The second debate was scheduled for March 2020, on the question, "Should Colleges Allow Hateful Speech?" This was to feature former ACLU President Nadine Strossen and Middlebury Professor Erik Bleich. Due to the viral pandemic the event has been tentatively re-scheduled for the spring of 2021.

Reading group

In the spring of 2020 a group of 14 students discussed current controversies on free speech, using insights from recent books by experts. Here are some reflections on what the students learned.



Initial evidence shows that students at Carroll feel broadly similar to students on other college campuses across the country.  Few feel that they cannot comfortably express their views in the classroom or elsewhere on campus.  But only about one in three students strongly agree that they feel comfortable doing so.  See charts below. 

Nationally, students who identify as conservative are less likely to feel comfortable expressing their views.  But at Carroll, conservatives tend to feel more comfortable than liberals.

Figure 1: Comfort in the classroom

Chart A


Figure 2: Comfort on campus

Chart B

Essay contest and reading group

In the spring of 2020, Dr. Street lead a reading group on free speech on campus and the question of whether this should include the freedom to denigrate social groups such as religious or racial minorities. Students received a stipend and copies of two texts. Students were selected based on essays on the following question:

Should Carroll College prohibit the on-campus expression of ideas that denigrate certain groups of people? If so, why? If not, how can the college ensure that the campus is a welcoming place of learning? Write up to 500 words.