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Half of Stanford students surveyed support speech code

STANFORD -- Just over half of Stanford seniors questioned in a recent poll said they support the university's policy on free expression and discriminatory harassment.

About a quarter of the respondents said they disagree with the policy, and another quarter were undecided, according to John Marr, who conducted the survey for his doctoral dissertation in educational administration at Ohio State University.

Marr mailed questionnaires about the policy in winter quarter to 1,269 Stanford seniors, or about 75 percent of the Class of 1993. The 555 respondents approximated the racial composition of the class: 63 percent were white and 37 percent were from a variety of minority racial and ethnic backgrounds.

In general, Marr found, "a majority of respondents indicated that the policy has not stifled academic discourse and has had minimal effect on their classroom, housing and extracurricular experiences."

Nearly 80 percent said the policy had not prevented them from raising subjects or questions - in class or in their residences - that might have been viewed as sensitive or controversial (with 7 to 8 percent undecided), and three-quarters said that their involvement in extracurricular activities had not been affected by the existence of the policy (with 17 percent undecided).

Three-quarters agreed with the statement: "I believe that it is possible to develop a policy which discourages discriminatory harassment without stifling academic discourse."

"The significant level of student support for the policy stands in contrast to the opinions of some scholars who argue that discriminatory harassment policies inevitably threaten freedom of speech and expression and the integrity of the teaching/learning process," Marr said.

"Although some respondents reported that they believe that the policy has contributed to some degree of self-censorship among students, many others reported positive benefits as a result of the policy," he said.

"Factor into this the many students who indicated that they were largely unaware of the policy and those who indicated that the policy has had no effect on discourse whatsoever at Stanford, and the study offers compelling evidence that the application of this particular policy at this particular university does not significantly jeopardize the 'marketplace of ideas' at Stanford."

Stanford adopted its "Fundamental Standard Interpretation: Free Expression and Discriminatory Harassment" policy in June 1990 after 18 months of debate over how to balance First Amendment rights with mounting concern over racist incidents on campus.

The policy, which was drafted by Stanford Law Professor Thomas Grey, prohibits "discriminatory intimidation by threats of violence or personal vilification of students on the basis of their sex, race, color, handicap, religion, sexual orientation or national and ethnic origin."

Violation of the policy - which has yet to be applied in a specific case - is considered a punishable breach of Stanford's 1896 Fundamental Standard for student conduct.

A proposal to repeal the policy, authored by Stanford graduate student Douglas Bone, was defeated in May by the Student Conduct Legislative Council.



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