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UW System free speech survey to be released on Nov. 14

The Student Views on Freedom of Speech survey will be released to undergraduate students at all 13 University of Wisconsin System campuses on Nov. 14.

The survey was set to be released in April but was postponed until the fall semester. Tensions over the survey led to the resignation of Jim Henderson, the former interim chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  

“I acknowledge that some chancellors were disappointed in that decision, and it regrettably led to a resignation,” UW System Interim President Michael Falbo wrote in an April statement, referring to the universities’ Institutional Review Boards (IRB) approving the survey . 

According to the Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the survey released in spring was met with a large amount of backlash from student governments across the UW System. It was then moved back to be released in fall with a promise of more transparency.

On Sept. 28, a draft of the survey was released to UW-Madison Student Shared Governance representatives through Google Forms, where they could provide feedback.

“While it's fine to assess student's perceptions of how others will receive their views, this study has a limited ability [to] accurately and reliably capture how the university, as an institution, limits free speech,” an anonymous student commented on the draft version.

Upon revisions, UW-Stout and UW-Madison’s IRB approved the survey. With this approval, the survey will be distributed to undergraduate students at UW-Madison and UW-Stout with a goal of receiving 500 student responses at each campus. The IRB approval of the remaining campuses is currently unknown.

On Nov. 14, 2,500 randomly selected students will receive the survey through an email invitation at each UW campus. If 500 responses are not received, another 2,500 students will receive the survey on Nov. 21. This will continue until either 500 responses are received, or until Dec. 14. Only up to 7,500 students on each campus will receive the survey.

According to ASM, the survey will ask students questions regarding the First Amendment, attitudes on viewpoint diversity, experiences with free expression, self-censorship on campus and more. 

According to the study description, the goal of the survey is “to survey degree seeking undergraduate students 18 or older at the 13 UW System campuses about campus free expression, viewpoint diversity, and self-censorship. The research aims to provide a systematic and objective description of UW System student respondents’ perceptions and views.”

The researchers of the survey are Timothy Shiell from the UW-Stout Menard Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation, Eric Giordano from the Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, April Bleske-Rechek from the UW-Eau Claire Psychology Department, Eric Kasper from the UW-Eau Claire Political Science Department and UW-Eau Claire Assistant Vice Chancellor Geoff Peterson.

The data analysis will take place from December 2022 to January 2023. Preliminary results will be available at the end of January and the final report will be accessible through the UW system.

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Ellie Bourdo

Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.

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