Free Speech

Some Universities, Even Public Ones, Actually Support Free Speech

But most do not.

|

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has released its annual college free speech rankings. This is the largest survey of campus free speech, reaching 37,000 students from the nation's top 159 colleges and universities; it assesses each school's speech climate across seven aspects: perceived comfort in speaking one's mind publicly, soundness of the speech code, reported levels of self-censorship, tolerance for liberal speakers, tolerance for conservative speakers, levels of acceptance for disrupting campus speech, and ability to discuss challenging topics on campus.

Topping 2021's list is Claremont McKenna College, which has been celebrated for gracefully handling a controversial speech by the conservative journalist Heather Mac Donald and for launching an Open Academy Initiative intended to foster viewpoint diversity. In the poll, 54 percent of students report that their administration makes it "extremely" or "very" clear that they champion free speech.

"At higher ranking schools, the students felt the administration made their stance on free speech issues clear," says Sean Stevens, FIRE's senior research fellow of polling and analytics. "It's a testament to the power of strong leadership on the part of administrators." Finishing out the top five were the University of Chicago, the University of New Hampshire, Emory University, and Florida State University.

On the other side of the spectrum is Marquette University, which drew ire for attempting to revoke Prof. John McAdams' tenure and to terminate him. (McAdams ultimately was reinstated after prevailing in court.) At Marquette, fewer than one in five students feel their school clearly upholds free speech. Also in the bottom five are Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Boston College, Louisiana State University, and DePauw University.

FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley says prospective students can use the rankings to find out which schools value free expression and open debate. Meanwhile, the polling provides an up-to-date snapshot of the state of free expression on campuses nationwide.

One major trend is rising hostility towards controversial speakers on campus. Two thirds of students say shouting down speakers is at least sometimes acceptable, up 4 percent from last year; 23 percent believe using violence to stop certain speech is acceptable, up from 18 percent in 2020. The two schools at which violence is considered most tolerable are Wellesley College and Barnard College, both elite women's institutions, who polled at 45 percent and 43 percent, respectively. According to the survey, conservative speakers face greater potential blowback.

Students also express trepidation in controversial conversation, with only 48 percent reporting that they feel comfortable expressing views on contentious issues during in-class discussions. In 2021, students were most apprehensive to discuss racial inequality, abortion, gun control, the George Floyd protests, and transgender issues.

"The value of higher education comes from developing a fuller understanding of the world by asking questions that challenge the status quo," says Adam Goldstein, FIRE's senior research counsel. "A college that won't clearly protect your right to ask those questions is a bad idea, even if it boasts small class sizes or a fancy stadium."

Merely one in three students nationwide say their administration makes it very or extremely clear that their speech is protected on campus. More than 80 percent of college students admitted to self-censoring, with 21 percent saying they do so often.

Such levels of illiberalism are intolerable in a higher education. The university campus is supposed to serve as a colosseum in the battle of ideas, not a place where students are conditioned to bite their tongues.

NEXT: Teachers Union Boss Accidentally Endorses School Choice While Rushing To Support Masking in Schools

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. I have long found it hilarious that those who pride themselves on being the smartest people in the room are utterly terrified of hearing dissenting opinions or facts which upset their narrative.

    1. I am not the most socially ept of people, and one thing that continually baffles me is why so many people get so het up by what others think that they feel the need to change them. I have never ever thought that other people need to change the way they think. I sure want them to change the way they act when those acts involve changing me, but they can believe in a flat earth or astrology or Marxsim or the Flying Spaghetti Monster for all I care, as long as they leave me alone.

      I can understand the motivation to steal other people’s things, I can understand Nazi and Marxist motivation to rig the system in their favor … but I cannot understand the motivation to change my thinking independent of wanting to change my behavior.

      1. I cannot understand the motivation to change my thinking independent of wanting to change my behavior

        With an attitude like that, you’ll never make it to room 101.

        1. “With an attitude like that, you’ll never make it to room 101.”

          How many genders are there?
          “Two”
          And if the party says there are sixty-three?
          “Two”
          How many genders?
          “Two! Two! What else can I say? Two!'”
          How many genders?
          “Sssixty-three! Sixty-three! Sixty-three!”
          No, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are two. How many genders, please?
          “Two! Sixty-three! Two! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!’

          1. Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening…QWe And i get surly a check of $12600 what’s awesottme is I m working from home so I get more time with my kids.

            Try it, you won’t regret it!…….. https://bit.ly/3u3ryIo

      2. Consider that the drive for status within little tribal groups predates humans or even apes. Stealing and killing are direct actions to gain material benefits. But if your brain is driven to pursue status, what others think of you becomes more important than food.

        In those monkey brains, leaving others alone is simply not possible.

        1. These are 2 pay checks $78367 and $87367. that i received in last 2 months. I am very happy that i can make thousands in my part time and now i am enjoying my life.GEr Everybody can do this and earn lots of dollars from home in very short time period. Your Success is one step away Click Below Webpage…..

          Just visit this website now………… VISIT HERE

  2. “makes their stance clear” is not the same as “supports free speech”, and “supports free speech” is easy to say when your definition of “free speech” is “for me and not thee”. I have zero faith in those rankings.

    1. Yeah, I’d want to see the survey questions.

      And, these are college kids. Not the most experienced. As a kid I knew tons of people from Cal, which was once the center of free speech rights in the 60s, who thought that Berkeley was a haven of free speech advocates. And you could say all kinds of strange things if you wanted, but they had no notion that it was really “free” of you were THEIR kind of wackadoodle.

      A couple decades on it’s pretty obvious. But 18 year olds are even less self aware than most.

  3. Do they support the free speech of others?

    1. Only if they say the right things.

      1. They also don’t support vax mandates as long as you get vaxxes.

    2. Do they support the free speech of others?

      ^ This is the only question on this topic that really means anything.

  4. pic of tri-delts doing the tomahawk chop is delicious.

  5. >>Such levels of illiberalism are intolerable in a higher education.

    lol college stopped being higher education in the 70s

  6. In better libertarian news from across the pond, Stephen Toope, vice-chancellor of Cambridge has… gone to spend more time with family.

    1. For those curious… Toope was an import who brought with him the awful wokeness infecting US (and Canadian) universities.

      He was a genuine creep and will not be missed.

    2. I wonder what the real reason was.

      1. I mean that the wokeys never usually back down from a fight with free speechers, so there must be something truly horrific as the real reason.

  7. The two schools at which violence is considered most tolerable are Wellesley College and Barnard College, both elite women’s institutions, who polled at 45 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

    ROFLMAO. At insular unisex universities, 45% of students think open-handed slapping is a tolerable response to free speech. More diverse universities recognize that one person’s open-handed slap is the next person’s weighted umbrella or baseball bat.

  8. Claremont McKenna’s “handling” of MacDonald’s speech was hardly laudable. They let protesters block the venue and refused to have the authorities clear access to the building. So yeah, MacDonald got to give her speech, but to a lesser crowd than would otherwise have attended.

  9. Boston College. Shocking, considering that BC is where Howard Zinn taught for 24 years.

    More than 5,000 teachers have signed onto a pledge at the Zinn Education Project that states they vow to teach their students the concepts of Critical Race Theory (CRT), even where it is banned by law.

    Oh, now I get it.

    1. Howard Zinn was the commencement speaker for my graduation. One reason I circular file each and every alumni letter I get. He was awful. Just awful. Parents started walking out of graduation ceremonies.

      1. Silly you, thinking that graduation ceremony was to celebrate your accomplishment and not to let the faculty show how darned better they are than the rubes.

    2. 5,000 is a lot, considering CRT supposedly isn’t a problem in schools.

      And these are the ones who affirm their willingness to behave illegally. How many more would do it if there wasn’t even a theoretical risk to them?

      1. I think Trump should voice support for CRT

        1. I always wanted Trump to gaslight the Demorats by supporting whatever crap they were slinging, just to see their heads explode trying to backpedal.

  10. The two schools at which violence is considered most tolerable are Wellesley College and Barnard College, both elite women’s institutions, who polled at 45 percent and 43 percent, respectively. According to the survey, conservative speakers face greater potential blowback.

    You just described pretty much most of the “female” staff at NPR.

  11. In somewhat related news..Andrew Yang is starting his own political party. I’d hope his Taiwanese background gives him an understanding of who the socialists in government are. Jacobin hates the guy, specifically for his Taiwanese background and maturity level. If the leftists hate him, he’s doing something right.

    1. He then immediately tried to explain away a Democrat talking point, showing how darned serious he is. Really, he is.

  12. “The university campus is supposed to serve as a colosseum in the battle of ideas, not a place where students are conditioned to bite their tongues.”

    It’s not either/or.

    The alternative to lefty PC foolishness isn’t necessarily opening up the campus to every wind of doctrine that blows (to paraphrase the Bible and John Milton).

    A private educational institution (and what is the govt doing running “public” educational institutions anyway?) can and ought to limit the kids of profs it hires and the kind of speakers it invites. It’s not as if those views (at least the left-wing ones) aren’t available on the intertubes, it’s a question of not giving institutional imprimatur either to the ideas, or to the idea that ideas are relative.

    The students can and should be required to debate controversial topics, as with the old university disputations. That’s quite consistent with teaching that certain things are true and certain things are false – the medieval universities certainly had an established religion. But within the bounds of what we know to be true there remain plenty of arguable issues.

    So, for instance, without deigning to entertain the idea that the Holocaust never happened, there can be a debate on historical responsibility of the German people for the Holocaust, just as one example.

    1. “colosseum in the battle of ideas”

      In the colosseum, some contestants get killed. Does this mean some ideas ought to be killed off in the heat of combat?

    2. limit the *kinds* of profs it hires

  13. God bless and keep the University of Chicago.

  14. In 2021, students were most apprehensive to discuss racial inequality, abortion, gun control, the George Floyd protests, and transgender issues.

    One of most enlightening things I ever did was give a speech on politicized language in a class I was taking at Portland Community College in 2002. I explained the real history of the word handicapped (taken from a odds-making expression ‘hand in cap’), as opposed to a particular internet myth (that the origin was an expression about begging ‘cap in hand’), and then I informed the audience I was going to write a controversial phrase on the board. I wrote MENTALLY RETARDED, and then discussed the clinical meaning of the phrase and why it was an important distinction.

    After class, a woman came up to me and confessed “I was terrified that you you were going to write ‘retarded'”. I had known that the word made people uncomfortable, but I had not realized the extent to which it actually caused people physical symptoms of anxiety.

    The war on speech being waged by Progressives and the left is very real. It has been going on for decades.

  15. A couple of Catholic schools near the bottom of the list. I guess everyone there must be or pretend to be pro-life.

    A couple of women’s colleges near the bottom of the list who many favor violence to prevent freedom of speech. Pro-choice is pro-violence.

    1. Let’s see…going by the two Catholic schools on the “worst” list…

      …a Marquette instructor supported gay marriage and said there was to be no debate on the issue.

      That instructor wasn’t disciplined. Instead, a professor who *opposed* the instructor got major hassle from the university.

      So in that case the Catholic university was actively undermining Catholic principles. Nor surprising since the place is run by Jesuits.

      Now to check out Boston College, also run by Jesuits…

      FIRE’s beefs include the alleged lack of due process in sexual assault charges. As for censorship, FIRE marks BC with a red light. Maybe these are conservative Jesuits who censor left-wing speech, but if so they are a very unusual kind of Jesuit.

      1. Ideally, all Catholic universities should make clear they teach Catholic principles and should earn a blue “warning” symbol from FIRE. If that doesn’t happen, it’s a sign the university is Catholic in the same sense Joe Biden is.

  16. In a ranking somebody’s gotta come out on top, but none of the scores are encouraging, even at the top of the list. The top composite score barely breaks 70 out of 100, and some of the individual scores are downright troubling (way too many low scores for “disruptive conduct”, or apparently way too many people think it’s still ok to shout people down and throw frozen water bottles).

    1. none of the scores are encouraging, even at the top of the list

      ^

    2. Tallest midget.

  17. “The two schools at which violence is considered most tolerable are Wellesley College and Barnard College ”

    Lesbians. Violent as f&ck.

    1. If they ever organize that would be a militia etheridge.

  18. It is stupid to ask the students about how free the speech is at a university.
    It should be up to the administration to tell its students that freedom of speech is a bedrock of our society and any effort to restrict it will result in punishment.
    I fail to see why administrations bow down to groups, who could easily be replaced by those who were not admitted to the college. It’s not like these schools are begging for students; that hundreds of applicants aren’t denied entry, each year because of space.
    Expel those who want to make the school less free and take in those who will support that freedom.
    The whiners, who don’t want to hear what is different than what they already believe, can go form their own colleges and universities, or just wallow in their ignorance.

  19. Aaaaaand this is another reason I don’t like hiring college grads.

    All that education but no thought.

Please to post comments