Black students and conservative students in the University of Nebraska system are less satisfied with their campus climate than white students and liberals, according to an extensive survey done this year.

Those are findings of a $219,500 Gallup survey of students, faculty members, staffers and recent alums of the NU campuses in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis. About 12,600 people across the NU system responded.

The NU system hired Gallup to do the survey last spring in part as a response to a confrontation in August 2017 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A graduate student-lecturer derided and flipped off a sophomore for recruiting students to the conservative group Turning Point USA.

But nationwide the issues of free speech, inclusion and diversity are being discussed and considered on college campuses. The NU system is far from alone in having disputes involving those issues and in striving to learn how pervasive discontentment is.

In a joint statement, the top administrators in the NU system called themselves “proud that we have been willing to take a hard look at ourselves.”

That statement also said: “All leading universities exist to create spaces for different people and ideas to collide in ways that challenge and broaden individuals’ thinking. ... Your candor will help us get better.”

When asked how different races treat each other, 81 percent of white students responding said excellent or good. But only 53 percent of black students responded that way.

“I’m not really surprised by those numbers,” said Kris Scott, a senior from Omaha who leads UNL’s Afrikan People’s Union. Scott said there are times when, as a black man, he feels isolated on campus.

“I think definitely we could do more to improve” those numbers, he said Thursday afternoon. He said he doesn’t think minority cultures are genuinely celebrated on campus. He wished that large organizations across campus promoted and participated in cultural events, because many students don’t even know when an event or celebration will take place.

On the issue of conservatism and liberalism, those questioned were asked which groups are able to freely express their views. Ninety percent of students said liberals are able to do so and 75 percent said conservatives may express their views freely.

Among faculty members, 85 percent said liberals are free to express their viewpoints and 77 percent said conservatives could do so.

Bailey O’Connor, president of the UNL College Republicans, said if some conservatives don’t feel welcomed, “that’s a problem. Additionally we should be looking specifically at what departments and degrees are yielding these results.”

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement: “We need to ensure that everyone in our university community feels free to express their views — regardless of perspectives shaped by race, gender, political ideology, religious belief, sexual orientation or socio-economic background. ...

“There is also a perception that politically conservative members of our community feel less free to express their views, as compared to political liberal members. ... this is something we need to understand and address.”

Most of the results were positive. Of students who currently or once lived in the residence halls, and alums who lived in a residence hall, only 1 percent said they felt unsafe or very unsafe in the dormitories at night or on weekends.

Among many other findings:

  • Sixty percent of student respondents said they trusted their campus to do the right thing if the student raised concerns about sexual assault or harassment.
  • Sixty-five percent of students said students on their campus respect free speech rights, and 59 percent of faculty members said students respect free speech. Seventy-four percent of alums believe students honor free speech.
  • Only 30 percent of faculty members and 28 percent of staffers said there was open communication through all levels of their campus. Forty-four percent of faculty members said their leadership is taking the campus in the right direction. Forty-eight percent of staffers concurred.
  • Only one in 10 of all of the groups disagreed or strongly disagreed with the notion that their campus wanted an inclusive environment for all. Asked if they believed campus leadership valued racial and ethnic diversity, 85 percent of white professors and staff members said yes, but only 49 percent of black professors and staff said yes. Sixty-nine percent of Hispanic professors and staffers said leadership valued diversity and 74 percent of Asian professors and staffers agreed.

Rick covers higher education for The World-Herald. Follow him on Twitter @RickRuggles. Phone: 402-444-1123.

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