Survey: Right-leaning college students say they are more likely to feel pressured over politics

College students who describe themselves as right-leaning say they are more likely to feel pressure to accept political views they find objectionable.

And while graduate students say they are more likely to feel pressure from professors or instructors, undergraduates say they are more likely to feel pressured by their peers.

Those are two findings from a statewide survey of students at Idaho colleges and universities, completed in late November. Meeting at Boise State University Thursday, the State Board of Education took a deeper dive into the data.

It was the board’s second look at the data; board members gave it a preliminary read in December.

For the most part, students who responded to the survey had a positive read on campus culture. Overwhelming majorities of students said they feel valued, respected, and felt a sense of belonging. And 67% of students said they rarely or never feel pressure to accept views they find objectionable.

The deeper look at the data revealed some differences, and not just along political lines.

For example, younger students, under age 30, were more likely to say they feel pressured over their views. However, first-year students said they were less likely to feel pressured.

The survey found no clear pattern along gender lines. At two-year schools, males said they felt more pressured over their views. At the four-year schools, this result flipped.

And more than half of survey respondents said they weren’t sure what to do or how to report their concerns — a potential action item for the State Board and the colleges, board chief academic officer TJ Bliss said Thursday.

That’s one “problem,” and one area that needs improvement, State Board President Kurt Liebich said Thursday. But he and other board members were reluctant to jump to conclusions, based on the survey.

“It’s an imperfect snapshot to what the culture and climate is on our campuses,” Liebich said.

Board member Bill Gilbert said he was uneasy about making snap recommendations to college and university administrators.

“They are the ones that are responsible for the culture on their campus,” he said.

Board member Linda Clark suggested a wait-and-see approach. If schools fail to respond over time, she said, the board might need to step in.

Nearly 9,000 students responded to the survey, and Bliss cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions. Because response rates vary widely, it’s impossible to use the survey to use it to draw comparisons between colleges and universities.

The survey results and a data dashboard are available on the State Board’s website.

In other board action Thursday:

Academic freedom. With little discussion, the State Board adopted a rewrite of its academic freedom policy.

“Students have the right to engage in free inquiry, intellectual debate, and freedom of scholarship both on and off campus,” the policy reads, in part. “Students shall not be subject to retaliation, or censorship in response to their beliefs, opinions, research, publications, creative activity, and participation in institutional governance.”

The policy extends similar protections to faculty: “In addition to constitutionally protected freedoms of speech, assembly, and religion, faculty have the right to engage in free inquiry, intellectual debate, and freedom of scholarship both on and off campus. Faculty shall not be subject to retaliation or censorship in response to their research, publications, creative activity, pedagogy, participation in institutional governance, and all other official aspects of their job description.”

Optional student fees. The board approved a policy allowing college students to opt out of fees for student activities, clubs and organizations.

The move comes a year after Rep. Julie Yamamoto, R-Caldwell, proposed a fee opt-out bill. The proposal didn’t pass.

Students who opt out of fees will receive a refund this fall.

All-day kindergarten. The State Board backed away from supporting a bill that would fully fund all-day kindergarten.

The reason comes down to politics. Senate Bill 1315 would tweak the state’s school funding formula, providing more than $40 million directly for full-day kindergarten. Gov. Brad Little has proposed a different approach — putting another $46 million into the state’s literacy budget, and giving schools the option of using the money for all-day kindergarten.

The State Board, comprised largely of gubernatorial appointees, took no position on SB 1315. But board members noted that they came out in favor of all-day kindergarten in August.

“We’re on the record,” board member David Hill said. “Don’t put our foot in it.”

College entrance exam requirement. This year’s high school seniors will not be required to take a college entrance exam.

The State Board waived the graduation requirement for the Class of 2022.

The requirement has been waived since the spring of 2020, and the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The board’s action is precautionary. The Legislature is considering a rule that would permanently rescind this graduation requirement, but that hasn’t been approved yet. State superintendent Sherri Ybarra urged her fellow board members to act Thursday, so high schools have clear direction heading into the final months of the school year.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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