When my son, Anthony, started college, the environment they offered for free debate was an important issue. Respect for freedom of speech and thought in colleges has been at a low level for some time and has worsened over the past year. Some schools, like the ones my son applied to, rank well when it comes to tolerance for diversity of ideas, but others are absolute abominations.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a civil liberties group that started out with a focus on academia, has just released a mock gallery of institutions of higher education that anyone with an independent opinion should avoid.
“Each year, FIRE awards special infamy to a select group of American colleges that go above and beyond in their efforts to trample on free speech. These are the schools that will stop at nothing to extinguish teacher rights, destroy student expression, and leave guest speakers in the dust,” she announced. is a group on February 2. “For that, we owe them a just reward: a spot on our exclusive ’10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech’ list.”
The disgraced schools are: Hamline University, University of Pennsylvania, Collin College, Texas A&M, University of Pennsylvania, Emerson College, Emporia State University, Tennessee Tech, University of Oregon and Loyola University.
Additionally, Georgetown University won the Lifetime Censorship Award for taking “122 days to determine that a 45-word tweet was protected political speech.” That included law professor Ilya Shapiro, who eventually resigned despite prevailing through an ordeal over comments about the Supreme Court’s selection process. He worried that the school would “discipline me the next time I break progressive orthodoxy.”
After the university repeatedly appeared on “10 Worst” lists for transgressions ranging from the Shapiro incident to preventing students from campaigning for Bernie Sanders, FIRE presented the Lifetime Achievement Award to acknowledge Georgetown’s “penchant for censorship.” It joins Yale University, DePaul University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Syracuse University in this dubious achievement.
The other schools on this year’s “10 Worst” list may not fall into the same category of repeat offenders, but they were certainly creative in winning their awards.
Hamline, of Minnesota, won his seat by firing an adjunct art professor who “displayed a 14th-century painting depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad—but not before offering multiple warnings, acknowledging that some Muslims believe the prophet should not even be depicted on which way, and told the students that they didn’t have to watch,” in the words of FIRE. Controversy over the speech and ensuing academic freedom continues, with the faculty last month asking President Fayneese Miller to resign.
Collin College, a community college in Texas and therefore bound by the First Amendment, earned its recognition for a series of retaliations against teachers who upset the administration. His latest move was to fire “history professor Michael Phillips for advocating the removal of Confederate statues and criticizing the college’s policies regarding COVID-19,” according to FIRE. Phillips sues Collin.
The University of Oregon earned its rank by directing faculty search committees to impose assessments of diversity, equity, and inclusion on applicants that go far beyond the stated goal of creating a welcoming environment and instead serve as an ideological litmus test. “Basically, if you want to work on the Board, you have to pledge allegiance and promote the DEI administrator [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] vision,” notes FIRE. “These requirements violate the faculty’s freedom of expression and academic freedom.”
DEI statements have spread throughout academia and are now included in tenure consideration at 21.5 percent of colleges and universities and 45.6 percent of large institutions of higher education, according to a 2022 survey by the American Association of University Professors. Some are less ideological than others, but there is a tendency to increasingly demand adherence to certain viewpoints.
“Any psychologist who wants to present at the most important convention in our field must now say how their work advances anti-racism,” NYU professor Jonathan Haidt argued last year against the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s “explicitly ideological” DEI request. . He announced his resignation from the professional organization rather than comply.
DEI statements also entered into my son’s academic considerations, albeit incidentally. Having already decided to attend the University of Arizona, the state’s Goldwater Institute reported that “all three public universities in Arizona have begun forcing faculty job applicants to provide mandatory ‘diversity statements’ as a condition of employment.” So far, 28 percent of job postings at the University of Arizona require DEI statements, far fewer than 73 percent of job postings at Northern Arizona University or 81 percent at Arizona State University.
The University of Arizona scored well overall in respect for free speech, ranking 18th (above average) in the latest FIRE College Free Speech Rankings. That’s good news for my child, but not so encouraging news in general for anyone going into higher education. That assessment revealed an increase in the number of schools receiving the lowest “red light” status compared to those enjoying a “green light” when it comes to tolerance for ideas and expression.
“Two universities joined the ranks of green-light schools this year: the University of North Carolina at Asheville and the University of South Florida. While none of the green-light schools lost their status, 12 schools dropped from yellow to red, and the percentage of schools with red light traffic increased by 0.8 percent, the first increase in 15 years,” according to FIRE.
It’s this kind of failure to maintain an open and respectful environment for speech and opinion that makes it so important to call out schools that, for whatever reason, punish people who express themselves and discuss ideas. Without consequence, it is all too easy for them to target dissidents, activists, agitators and heterodox thinkers. Ultimately, instead of institutions of learning, you end up with echo chambers.
By all accounts, my son is off to a good start in higher education with his plans to attend a school that meets his educational needs while encouraging open discussion. All preparing college applications would do well to similarly consider the free speech environment when considering their continuing education and to cross off all those listed in the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech.”