University News

Poll shows mixed opinions on Ray Kelly, coal divestment

A poll conducted by The Herald revealed shifting approval of President Christina Paxson

By and
University News Editors
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
This article is part of the series Fall 2013 Student Poll 2

See full results and methodology.


Roughly three-quarters of undergraduates do not support the protests inside List Art Center 120 that caused a scheduled lecture by New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to be canceled last week, according to the results of a poll The Herald conducted Monday.

Despite opposition to shutting down the lecture, strong majorities of students agree with protests outside the building and the circulation of a petition beforehand to prevent Kelly from coming to campus, the poll found.

And in the wake of the Corporation’s decision last month not to divest the University’s endowment from large coal companies, student support for divestment has fallen, though it remains the plurality opinion.

Though President Christina Paxson’s approval rating has risen slightly over the past month, the proportion of students who disapprove of her has increased threefold, from about 9 percent to near 28 percent.


Ray Kelly

A substantial majority of students expressed opposition to the stop-and-frisk policing practices Kelly has enforced in New York City. But most students disagreed with the actions student and community protestors took inside List that caused his lecture at Brown to be shut down.

About 56 percent of students said they strongly opposed stop-and-frisk and 22 percent were somewhat opposed, while just 8 percent supported the practice.

Close to 7 percent of students reported no opinion of stop-and-frisk, and another 7 percent indicated they were not familiar enough to answer.

Around 71 percent of students agreed with protestors’ circulation of a petition beforehand calling for Kelly’s lecture to be canceled. Twenty-one percent disagreed with the petition action and 8 percent said they were not sure.

The event was planned to be part of the Noah Krieger ’93 Memorial Lecture series hosted by the Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions.

Nearly 80 percent of students agreed with student and community activists’ protests outside List when Kelly was set to deliver his lecture, while close to 13 percent of students disagreed, and about 8 percent reported they were not sure.

But nearly three-quarters of students — around 73 percent — disagreed with protestors’ actions inside the auditorium that shut down Kelly’s lecture. About 13 percent agreed with those actions, and 14 percent said they were not sure.

“I think that trying to get the lecture canceled in the first place was definitely the most civil action,” Will Sano ’16 said, calling the petition campaign the best way for students and community members to express their concerns. “I do think the lecture should have gone forward, given that it had been formalized and scheduled.”

Sano added he understands protestors’ perspective, but “I just don’t agree with their silencing of Ray Kelly,” he said.

Misbah Noorani ’17 said she believed most protestors had strong feelings about Kelly coming to speak at the University, but she added that a “mob mentality” formed among some who protested inside the auditorium.

Though student views on protestors’ actions surrounding the lecture correlated somewhat with race, majorities in every racial category disagreed with the protests that shut down the lecture.

About 76 percent of white students disagreed with the protests inside the auditorium, compared to 55 percent of black students. Two-thirds of Hispanic students and 77 percent of Asian students said they disagreed.

Roughly 90 percent of black students agreed with the protests outside List, compared to 81 percent of white students, 77 percent of Asian students and 76 percent of Hispanic students.

Support for protestors’ circulation of a petition before the lecture calling for Kelly’s talk to be canceled also had racial differences. Around 70 percent of white students and 71 percent of Asian students agreed with the petition campaign, compared to 80 percent of Hispanic students and 74 percent of black students.



A majority of students who expressed an opinion on the Corporation’s choice not to divest from coal companies opposed the decision. But the percentage of the student body favoring divestment decreased from 52 percent in The Herald’s previous poll, conducted Sept. 30 to Oct. 1, to 44 percent in the poll conducted Monday.

About 20 percent of students — the same share of the student body as last month — reported no opinion on the University’s decision not to divest.

Paxson announced the decision not to divest the University’s endowment assets in a community-wide email Oct. 27, following last month’s Corporation meeting.

Student opposition to divestment doubled since the previous poll. A combined 28 percent of poll respondents this week indicated support for the Corporation’s decision not to divest while just 14 percent of students surveyed in the previous poll opposed divestment.

Opinions on divestment differed by gender, with 37 percent of males supporting the Corporation’s decision compared to 22 percent of females. About 50 percent of females disagreed with the University’s decision, compared to 36 percent of males.

“I’m for (the University) not divesting because I’m from coal country,” said Rebecca Noga ’17, who hails from northeastern Pennsylvania.

Collin Wiles ’15 said he disagreed with the Corporation’s decision but added that he felt Paxson could not be blamed for the decision.

“I feel that the Corporation was responsible for the decision more than Christina Paxson” was, he said.

Students who supported the decision not to divest generally felt students have at least some influence on University administrative decisions.

But 73 percent of students who strongly disagreed with the divestment decision said they believe student voices and opinions have little to no impact on the administration.



At the start of her second year in office, Paxson has become an increasingly polarizing figure on campus. The poll showed a steep rise over the past month in her disapproval rating, which jumped from about 9 percent in the previous poll to 28 percent this week.

But the percentage of students who indicated approval also increased slightly, from about 43 percent to 48 percent. The proportion of students with no opinion fell by about half.

“She’s being very diplomatic, but she’s not being as sensitive to student needs as I would like her to be,” said Anna Zeidman ’15, who said she somewhat approves of Paxson’s performance.

Black students were significantly less likely to approve of Paxson’s job performance: Less than a third expressed approval, compared to an average of 49.5 percent across all other races, including a slim majority of white students.

Male students approved of Paxson at a higher level — 54.3 percent — than female students, at 42.1 percent.


Student influence

At a university whose curricular distinctiveness and identity largely resulted from student mobilization in the 1960s, current undergraduates are split over how much influence their voices and opinions have on the University’s decisions — an issue some student activists have highlighted as a grievance about the administration.

Roughly half of poll respondents said students have some influence on administrative choices, but another 41.5 percent said their opinions have little to no influence. Only 7.3 percent believe students have significant influence.

First-years were much more likely than students in any other year to say student voices have significant or some influence on the administration. And approval of Paxson was generally correlated with a belief in students’ ability to effect change.

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  1. Those Liberals... says:

    The headline should read “Strong Disapproval of Campus leftist Mob”. The protesters and sympathizers, who dominate facebook and think they represent the “true” voice of Brown must realize that they are a tiny, 13% minority on campus and have no right to impose their opinion and action on others. Thanks for this poll, it was about time to put everything in perspective.

  2. Regardless what you think about stop and frisk, causing the lecture to get canceled was a bad tactic. By shutting down the talk, protesters managed to alienate the majority of the campus, even though most students agree with them on the substantive issue, as this poll shows–i.e., most don’t support stop & frisk.

    So, instead of talking policy, we’re focused on questions of freedom of speech. This isn’t what the protesters wanted, but they should have seen it coming–it’s the predictable outcome of their approach.

  3. Only 44.2% of students support divestiture. Someone in BDC, doesn’t that mean that if the University chooses to divest it is “silencing” 55.8% of the student body?

  4. “Roughly three-quarters of undergraduates do not support…”
    No, roughly 9 out of 10 do not support. The 14% “not sure” cannot be counted as supporters so those coupled with the 73% opposed make 87% who did not support shutting down the lecture. It’s bad enough when the professional press cannot put 2 digits together – smart and educated amateurs should be able to handle the simplest of statistics.

  5. Too common on today’s campus…”Free Speech” is limited to Left speech…

  6. YOU NEED TO PUT THE MARGINS OF ERROR WITH YOUR STATISTICS. It’s not right to make these claims without them. The former and current Divest support numbers could easily be within each others’ margin of error, implying NO CHANGE. So please put margin or errors up.

    • The margin of error is listed on the full results and methodology page, linked at the top of the article.

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