New survey reveals highest and lowest ranked college campuses for student free speech

News & Politics

According to a recent study conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a non-profit civil liberties group, Columbia University ranked as the worst school for student free speech.

The annual FIRE study was the “largest survey on student free expression ever conducted” and included responses from more than 45,000 students from January to May of this year. Students had to be enrolled as full-time undergraduate students in a four-year program to qualify for the survey.

The comprehensive list includes the free speech ranking of 203 campuses in the United States.

The survey, released on Wednesday, categorized each school from “exceptional” to “abysmal.”

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Columbia University was the only campus to receive an “abysmal” rating. It was followed by the University of Pennsylvania, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgetown University, Skidmore College, and Yale University, which all ranked “very poor” or “poor.”

The highest scoring campuses included the University of Chicago, Kansas State University, Purdue University, Mississippi State University, and Oklahoma State University.

No institutions on the list received a score of “very good” or “exceptional.”

The results were based mainly on student responses and whether the institute had policies against speech. FIRE stated that schools with speech restrictions automatically fell lower on the list. The non-profit also considered if the school had disinvited speakers to give talks on campus.

Surveyed students were asked how comfortable they felt expressing political views, their tolerance for liberal and conservative speakers, their tolerance for protesting speakers, support for free speech from administrative staff, and the level of acceptance for open debate on campus.

“Self-censorship is pervasive across top-ranked and bottom-ranked schools alike; 63% of respondents worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstood something they said or did. An equal percentage said that students shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus was acceptable to some degree,” the survey reported.

“That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture,” stated FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens. “How can students develop their distinct voices and ideas in college if they’re too afraid to engage with each other?”

The research found that 42% of conservative students “often” feel unable to speak freely. Only 13% of liberal students said the same.

Students stated that the three most difficult topics to discuss comfortably on campus included abortion, racial inequality, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Many college students declared that specific speakers should not be allowed on campus. For example, 60-74% of students said they do not support the school allowing on-campus speakers who believe any of the following: transgenders have a mental disorder, BLM is a hate group, the 2020 election was stolen, or that abortion should be illegal.

“The situation for freedom of speech and academic freedom has been in trouble on campus since before FIRE was founded in 1999,” stated FIRE CEO Greg Lukianoff. “That situation has gotten far worse in the last few years. Our new and improved rankings are intended to reward universities that protect and defend the freedom of speech, while empowering students and parents who care about free speech not to attend or support universities that don’t.”

Columbia University and the University of Chicago did not respond to requests for comment from the College Fix.

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