FIRE presents the 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2021

February 17, 2021

PHILADELPHIA, Feb. 17, 2021 — Would you make a student homeless during the pandemic because you didn’t like something he said? Or threaten faculty doctors fighting COVID-19 with termination for speaking to the press? If you’re a campus official at one of the schools on this list, you just might!

In the 10th edition of our annual “Worst Colleges for Free Speech” list, campus free speech watchdog the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education names and shames the worst in college censorship over the last year. And, as in years past, narrowing down the list was no easy task.

This year’s worst-of-the-worst list includes a college that fired a history professor for teaching history, one that tried to expel a student after she tweeted about Cardi B, and another that censored Students for Justice in Palestine with one hand and a pro-Second Amendment student with the other.

The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech are, in alphabetical order:

  • Collin College (McKinney, Texas)
  • Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, Penn.)
  • Fordham University (New York City)
  • Frostburg State University (Frostburg, Md.)
  • Haskell Indian Nations University (Lawrence, Kan.)
  • New York University (New York City)
  • Northwestern University Qatar (Doha, Qatar)
  • St. John’s University (New York City)
  • University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, Ill.)
  • University of Tennessee (UT Health Science Center, Memphis, Tenn.)

Detailed descriptions of each college’s speech-chilling misdeeds are available on FIRE’s website.

“Every single college on this list had a choice whether to suppress the viewpoints of their own students and faculty members — and every one chose to make the decisions that landed them on this list,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “We expected 2020 to be quieter than normal as institutions focused on mitigating effects of the pandemic. But what we saw astounded us. As COVID cases exploded, so did FIRE’s cases of campus rights violations. Last year was the busiest in FIRE’s history, showing that while nearly every facet of our lives changed during the pandemic, at least one aspect remained shockingly constant: Administrators will continue to censor students and faculty members for no damn reason.”

FIRE also issued its third Lifetime Censorship Award, reserved for those colleges that appear so frequently on our annual worst list that they deserve special recognition. This year, Syracuse University — which made our list in 2011, 2012, 2019, and 2020 — earned the award for its unashamed assault on expressive freedoms that has continued despite a pandemic, a new chancellor, lawsuits, and countless FIRE letters, blog posts, and press releases. Syracuse joins Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and DePaul University as the three recipients to date of FIRE’s lowest “honor.”

Today’s 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech list marks FIRE’s 10th year compiling its “worst-of-the-worst” list. Previous editions can be found on FIRE’s website.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty.


Katie Kortepeter, Media Relations Associate, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

Schools:  Collin College St. John’s University Duquesne University Haskell Indian Nations University Fordham University University of Illinois Chicago New York University Frostburg State University University of Tennessee – Knoxville Northwestern University

Cases:  University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center: Student Investigated and Punished for Social Media Posts Collin College: Professors Dismissed Over COVID-19 Criticism, Union Advocacy University of Illinois Chicago: Investigation into Professor for Referencing Racial Slur on Law Exam Frostburg State University: Administration Retaliates Against Student Journalist’s Critical Coverage by Dreaming Up Harassment Investigation Haskell Indian Nations University: Administration Sends Censorial “Directives” to Student Newspaper Editor and University Employees St. John’s University: Professor Accused of Violating Bias Policy for Asking Students to Debate Global Trade Duquesne University: Professor Suspended for Discussing Impropriety of Racial Slur in Class Fordham University: Student Banned from Campus, Placed on Probation After Instagram Photo Commemorating Tiananmen Square Massacre Haskell Indian Nations University: Denial of Hearing After Student Kicked Out of Campus Housing New York University: NYU Grossman School of Medicine Media Policy Muzzles Faculty During Coronavirus Crisis Fordham University: Prospective Students for Justice in Palestine Chapter Rejected Over Political Beliefs