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Why was the study conducted?

There has been much discussion on campus, in the state, and around the country about free expression and constructive dialogue at colleges and universities. We wanted to better understand these issues at our own institution. We also saw an opportunity to conduct our study in ways that would introduce new information into the national conversation. (See “What Makes this Project Distinctive” in our report.)

What research techniques did you use?

Our research consisted of a survey that all UNC Chapel Hill undergraduates were invited to complete in the Spring of 2019. We also conducted focus group interviews with three politically active student organizations.

What range of topics do you investigate?

Topics we examined included:

  • Students’ perceptions of the political leanings of their course instructors.
  • Students’ experiences voicing their perspectives in courses and how these experiences vary by students’ political leanings.
  • Students’ broader orientations toward engaging with dissimilar political ideas.
  • Students’ perceptions of opportunities to hear liberal and conservative speakers on campus.

How many students participated?

1,087 students fully completed our survey questionnaire. Approximately eighteen students participated in the focus group interviews.

UNC-Chapel Hill has about 30,000 students. How well does the sample of survey respondents reflect the population?

Our sample comes close to UNC benchmarks for class year, state of residency, gender, and race. Table 1 in the report reports these figures in detail.

What incentives did students have for participating and how does this impact the survey data?

A randomly selected group of 2,000 undergraduate students were offered an incentive (a $10 Amazon gift card) to complete the survey. All remaining undergraduate students were invited to participate for no incentive.

One benefit of recruiting respondents both with and without an incentive is that we can make comparisons to assess how the incentive might have influenced responses. We see little evidence that the incentive affected our conclusions, but interested readers can review the relevant details in Appendix E of our report.

How will the data be used?

Our findings will ideally generate discussion among administration, faculty, students, media, and interested members of the public.

Has this research been peer reviewed?

Before making the report publicly available, we solicited and incorporated feedback from a number of qualified peers. However, the report has not undergone editorial peer review. We expect to build on this work before publishing it in a peer-reviewed venue, and at this stage we are happy to receive constructive feedback from any interested party.

Was this research approved the UNC’s Institutional Review Board?


Was this research requested or initiated by an outside group?

No. We, the authors, initiated this research of our own accord. We did solicit feedback from many people on campus and other colleagues to improve the research design.

Who funded the research?

We requested and received funding from the Provost’s Office, and we primarily used this funding for respondent incentives and research assistance. We did not coordinate with the Provost’s Office in designing the study, fielding it, or describing our results and conclusions. In addition, UNC’s Office of Institutional Research and Accountability helped to administer our survey.

We have received no other funding from internal or external sources.

What did you find?

The report contains an Executive Summary that succinctly describes broad themes that run throughout our conclusions. These themes are:

  • Students say that (when politics come up in class) the majority of their UNC professors do try to discuss both sides of political issues & encourage opinions from across the political spectrum.
  • The current campus does not consistently promote free expression and constructive dialogue across the political spectrum.
  • Although students across the political spectrum report facing challenges related to free expression, these challenges seem to be more acute for students who identify as conservative.
  • Students across the political spectrum want more opportunities to engage with those who think differently.

We hope readers will carefully examine the methods and analyses that support each of these themes, as they are not intended to be generalizations..

How did you guard against biased interpretation of the data?

As is standard in scientific research, we have made our instruments, procedures, and analytical steps entirely transparent for others to assess. All are available in the report.