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10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2022

Worst colleges for free speech 2022

There’s no shortage of colleges and universities that will go to great lengths to stifle free speech. Some institutions are worse than others, which is why each year for over a decade, FIRE compiles a list of the worst-of-the-worst.

Since our first list in 2011, FIRE has named and shamed 80 institutions in 33 statesfor actively working to shut down student and faculty speech rights.

It’s not easy to make this list. The colleges you’ll read about below have been steadfast in their refusal to grant students and faculty even the most basic guarantees of freedom or fairness. The bar for good behavior is, unfortunately, quite low, though we here at FIRE are working every day to raise it.

This year, we also bestow a special distinction upon Yale University. This world-renowned institution, which famously recommitted to freedom of expression and inquiry in 1974, doubled down this year on trampling the rights of students and scholars. For that, Yale earned FIRE’s 2022 Lifetime Censorship Award, joining DePaul University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Syracuse University as a recipient of this shameful “honor.”

As in previous years, FIRE’s 2022 “worst-of-the-worst” list is presented in no particular order, and both public and private colleges are featured. Public colleges and universities are bound by the First Amendment. Private colleges on this list are not constitutionally required to respect student and faculty speech rights, but explicitly promise to do so.

Ladies and gentlemen, here are America’s worst colleges for free speech.

Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)

Stanford Law student Nicholas Wallace

The "wind of freedom" no longer blows at Stanford University, where a student was investigated for political satire.

Stanford University’s comedy of errors began with a case of censorship so outlandish, it quickly went viral. On Jan. 25, 2021, Stanford law student Nicholas Wallace sent a satirical email to a student listserv, inviting students to a fake Federalist Society event: “Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.” The fake event (scheduled for Jan. 6 — almost three weeks in the past) would feature Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as keynote speakers, suggesting insurrection and “doing a coup” as approaches to achieving limited government.

It was political satire. But not everyone was laughing.

Stanford’s Federalist Society filed a complaint, claiming that Wallace, through his impersonation, had “defamed” Hawley, Paxton, and the student group. Stanford’s administration responded by opening an investigation and placing a hold on Wallace’s diploma — two weeks before graduation.

FIRE wrote to Stanford, explaining what satire is and why freedom of expression embraces the long tradition of lampooning political figures with tongue-in-cheek barbs.

Within hours of Slate’s first report, Stanford’s blunder went viral. The story was covered by The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Stanford Daily, and Stanford soon discovered that it had become Twitter’s dreaded “person of the day.” Among those who joined in to ridicule Stanford’s inability to recognize parody was Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz, who tweeted, in part, “How is this taking any longer than 15 minutes for them to reverse and apologize?”

It took longer than 15 minutes, but administrators backtracked and dropped the investigation, announcing what should have been obvious when the complaint was first filed in March: The email was protected by Stanford’s promises of freedom of expression. That yielded an open letter from faculty across the political spectrum and calls from Stanford Law administrators — who had not been involved in the university’s decision — to reformStanford’s processes.

That was in January, but Stanford ended the year just as it started: trampling student rights. In December, Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate declined to fund a College Republicans’ request for a speaker event with former Vice President Mike Pence, scheduled to be held later this month. Student senators initially cited concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and the potential for the event to draw large crowds from outside of the county and state in denying the request. However, audio recordings suggest the decision was instead based on objections to the “propagation of ideals” or “morals and values,” not safety.

Last week, after repeated criticism from FIRE, Stanford’s Constitutional Council reversed the decision. The event can now proceed, but it should not have gotten this far.

Stanford’s motto is “the wind of freedom blows” — but lately that just seems like a lot of stagnant hot air.

Emerson College (Boston, Mass.)

Emerson College's Turning Point USA chapter was suspended for passing out these stickers.
Stickers distributed by Turning Point USA

Emerson bravely censored its own students so China’s government wouldn’t have to.

Emerson College went above and beyond to punish its students and hide online criticism after a student group distributed stickers critical of China’s government.

On Sept. 27, members of the campus chapter of Turning Point USA distributed stickers that referenced a popular video game and depicted the phrase “China Kinda Sus” — slang for suspicious. The “China Kinda Sus” sticker also featured an image of a hammer and sickle.

One of those stickers — guess which — drew student objections online, and Emerson’s administration quickly condemned the stickers, stating that they “expressed anti-China hate.” Under pressure from campus groups and others, Emerson suspended its chapter of TPUSA and launched an investigation.

When that investigation concluded, Emerson conceded that TPUSA “did not intend to target anyone other than China’s government,” but still found the group responsible for violating Emerson’s Bias-Related Behavior policy. TPUSA appealed the decision to no avail. The formal warning remains on the group’s record, placing it on thin ice if other charges are filed against it in the future.

Not content with digging itself into a hole — almost all the way to China — Emerson kept digging, hiding Twitter comments from online critics who ripped into its heavy-handed attempt to protect the feelings of China’s government. The hidden replies? Photos of Winnie the Pooh, an emblem of the resistance to the foreign power.

As China’s government cracked down on institutions of higher education such as Hong Kong University, Emerson bravely stepped into the breach to shield the government from criticism.

The college acknowledged that TPUSA is innocent of the charges, and found the group guilty anyway. Then it humiliated itself further by hiding images of a cartoon bear.

If anything is “kinda sus” at Emerson, it’s the administration bending over backwards to protect China’s government.

Boise State University (Boise, Idaho)

Boise State Aerial View
Idaho lawmakers threatened to slash the university's budget. (Charles Knowles /

Boise State suspended dozens of diversity-related courses at the behest of lawmakers — based on a bogus tip.

The day before a critical vote on cuts to the university’s budget, under pressure from lawmakers to cancel “social justice ideology student activities, clubs, events and organizations,” Boise State abruptly pulled the plug on 52 sections of a required diversity-related course. To justify the move, Boise State announced it had “been made aware of a series of concerns, culminating in allegations that a student or students have been humiliated and degraded in class on our campus for their beliefs and values.”

Rumors circulated of a video in which a white student was allegedly “made to feel uncomfortable.” The university claimed that the suspension of the classes came after several complaints about the courses — but the video was the final straw. The only problem? Nobody had actually seen the video — except for, it would turn out, a “concerned community leader” who said he had seen a video on a friend’s phone of a student singled out and forced to apologize in front of the class for being white or having white privilege. The university suspended the classes and hired a law firm to investigate the matter.

The classes later resumed, but the damage was done: Instead of attending classes with other students in real-time, students were to view pre-recorded lectures.

Ultimately, the law firm was “unable to substantiate the alleged instance of a student being mistreated” in one of the classes. In other words: it didn’t happen. When the law firm wrapped up its investigation, it turned out that the university’s administration had never seen the rumored video, as the unwritten complaint had been made directly to Boise State’s president by an unidentified “concerned community leader” who refused to tell investigators how to obtain it. The report carefully avoided identifying the “concerned community leader,” and the university steadfastly refused to identify the source of the bogus tip. The report didn't mention that the tipster was a state lawmaker — who still remains unidentified.

The takeaway? Boise State suspended the sections because of an unsubstantiated secondhand claim that a damning video of a student being mistreated was circulating among the same lawmakers considering cuts to the university’s budget. Despite the absence of anything but wild claims from a budget-slashing lawmaker, the law firm concluded that the suspension of classes was appropriate given the “serious nature of the allegations.” We, uh, couldn’t disagree more.

For trading the academic freedom of its students and faculty for momentary reprieve from legislative pressure, instead of mounting a defense of expressive rights, Boise State earns a special place on our “10 Worst” list.

Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)

Georgetown University School of Law sign in front of main entrance to administrative building
From Nikole Hannah-Jones (top left) to Bari Weiss (bottom left), there's no shortage of critics who disagree with Georgetown Law's decision to suspend Ilya Shapiro over controversial tweets.

Law school repeatedly — and eagerly — capitulates to online outrage mobs.

The “10 Worst” list was complete. But when Georgetown University decided to use its own promises of free expression as kindling to start one of the biggest dumpster fires of bad decision-making and downright hypocrisy we’ve seen all year, we had to make a last-minute change.

On Jan. 26, Ilya Shapiro — the newly-announced executive director of the Georgetown Center for the Constitution — tweeted about President Joe Biden’s options for replacing retiring Justice Stephen Breyer:

Objectively best pick for Biden is Sri Srinivasan, who is solid prog & v smart. Even has identity politics benefit of being first Asian (Indian) American. But alas doesn’t fit into latest intersectionality hierarchy so we’ll get lesser black woman. Thank heaven for small favors?

Because Biden said he’s only consider black women for SCOTUS, his nominee will always have an asterisk attached. Fitting that the Court takes up affirmative action next term.

Shapiro quickly apologized for what he admitted was a “poor choice of words,” and that his objection was to the idea that Srinivasan “and other men and women of every race are excluded from the outset of the selection process.” But Twitter wouldn’t be Twitter if the tweet didn’t conjure an outrage mob demanding that Georgetown fire the libertarian legal scholar.

Georgetown Law didn’t just fall into this trap — it practically jumped into it. Dean William Treanor’s immediate reaction was to condemn the “appalling” tweets before even speaking to Shapiro: “The tweets are at odds with everything we stand for at Georgetown Law and are damaging to the culture of equity and inclusion that Georgetown Law is building every day.”

FIRE wrote to Georgetown’s leadership on Jan. 30, reminding them that the university laudably promises the “broadest possible latitude to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn,” even when that speech is considered “offensive, unwise, immoral, or ill conceived.”

A group of more than 140 faculty members and higher ed leaders from across the political spectrum rallied to Shapiro’s defense with a letter urging Treanor that the academic freedom implications of ​​​​punishing Shapiro reverberate throughout campus, chilling “far more than just honest discussions of this particular Presidential nomination.”

On Monday, Treanor put Shapiro on administrative leave pending an investigation.

What is there to investigate? Whether Shapiro is allowed to express his views on matters of public concern? Whether Georgetown was crossing its fingers when it promised broad latitude to speak?

Any university worthy of the name should be capable of using this as a teaching moment about the importance of free expression rather than hiding behind some sham investigation in a feeble attempt to mollify a Twitter mob.

If you’re feeling déjà vu, that’s because in March, the law center fired a professor and suspended another after a conversation about black students’ performance in their classes was accidentally-recorded and shared on social media. Students had apparently left the online class before the conversation occurred, so the professors thought they were having a private conversation.

Treanor repeatedly ignored Georgetown’s promises of free expression and instead used his own playbook, one that not only puts faculty jobs on the line, but the academic integrity of an entire institution with it.

University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, Ill.)

University of Illinois Chicago law professor Jason Kilborn.
University of Illinois Chicago law professor Jason Kilborn.

A law professor included censored references to slurs in an exam. He was forced into mandatory training — that features the same slur, redacted in the same way.

For the second year in a row, the University of Illinois Chicago has earned its way onto our “10 Worst” list. While there have been several instances of professors punished for lessons involving the utterance of racial epithets in class discussions, UIC targeted a professor who avoided doing so in a context where making expurgated reference to epithets was pedagogically warranted.

Law professor Jason Kilborn asked an exam question in his civil procedure class involving an employment-law hypothetical where, among other things, a woman accused her former employer of discrimination. The question included the fact that the complainant claimed they were called — and this is verbatim — “a ‘n____’ and ‘b____’ (profane expressions for African Americans and women)” on the job. Kilborn had used the prompt in previous years’ exams without incident.

So when UIC suspended Kilborn and launched an investigation, FIRE stepped in and provided him with an attorney at no cost via our Faculty Legal Defense Fund. With guidance from his FLDF counsel, Kilborn reached an accord with UIC that — we thought — would return him to the classroom, based on accepting some mechanical changes in approach. That resolution specifically excluded any requirement that Kilborn attend mandatory sensitivity training or sign a non-disclosure agreement that would bar him from publicly commenting on his ordeal.

But apparently suspending and investigating Kilborn wasn’t enough for UIC — or more pointedly, its law students — as UIC reneged in November when renewed student protests broke out upon the realization that Kilborn was set to teach in the spring. UIC summarily and unceremoniously removed Kilborn from teaching (again!) and insists that he take individualized training on “classroom conversations that address racism” before being allowed to return.

This mandate, which will entail self-reflection papers “in response to specific prompts” (in other words, compelled speech) is clearly a case of UIC bowing to pressure from students, even those whose claims rely upon faulty information about what Kilborn actually said and did. And in a stunning display of unintended irony, the training was barely underway when Kilborn found that the individualized training materials include the same redacted slur he used in his test question.

Last week, Kilborn filed a First Amendment suit against UIC for its repeated violation of his rights. The lawsuit seeks a court order to stop UIC from enforcing its training mandate, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for that and the other unconstitutional harms inflicted by UIC.

Linfield University (McMinnville, Ore.)

Former English professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner is suing Linfield University for $4 million.
English professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner sued Linfield University after he was fired without due process. (DerRichter / Wikimedia Commons)

A faculty member spoke out about alleged anti-Semitic comments and raised concerns about the board’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. So he was fired.

Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, a tenured professor at Oregon’s Linfield University, learned that he had been unceremoniously terminated when he received this bounced email from his own email address: “Daniel Pollack-Pelzner is no longer an employee of Linfield University.”

That’s because Pollack-Pelzner ran afoul of Linfield’s president, Miles K. Davis (not that Miles Davis, though this one is certainly trumpeting something). Pollack-Pelzner accused Davis of making remarks to him about “Jewish noses” — Pollack-Pelzner is Jewish — and raised concerns about the board of trustees’ handling of sexual harassment allegations.

Davis told the university’s outside investigators that he hadn’t made the remark, leading them to conclude that this was a case of “he said, she said” that couldn’t be proven one way or the other. After firing Pollack-Pelzner, Davis conceded to a journalist that he had, in fact, made the remark. But, Davis asserted, it was necessary to fire Pollack-Pelzner because of “blatantly false statements,” citing in particular Pollack-Pelzner’s email, which mistakenly stated that former trustee David Jubb — who Linfield said had resigned for “health concerns” — faced eight felony counts for groping students. (It was one felony and seven misdemeanors. Jubb recently pled no contest as part of a plea agreement.)

Tenure is supposed to provide procedural protections against censorship by administrators, requiring them to prove to a faculty body that they have cause to fire a tenured faculty member. Davis did not do so. Instead, dissembling, Davis — again, the president of a university — claimed he didn’t know there were guidelines for terminating tenured faculty members. Davis, together with Vice President Susan Agre-Kippenhan, issued a series of conflicting statements: that the university didn’t have a handbook because it had recently changed its name (yes, the handbook had the university’s new name on it); that the handbook was out of date (it had been updated that January); that a handbook existed, but required revision; and that they had fired Pollack-Pelzner as an “employee,” not as a faculty member. Calvinball has more consistent rules.

Meanwhile, students and faculty members soon saw their signs in support of Pollack-Pelzner removed from campus, with security officers claiming that they were being collected as “evidence.”

This isn’t the first time Linfield has bailed on its policies which purport to commit to freedom of expression. In 2017, Jordan Peterson, who was invited by a student group to speak on campus, tweeted that he would be “violating more safe spaces soon” by appearing at Linfield. Peterson’s appearance, ironically part of a “Speak Freely” series, was canceled by Agre-Kippenhan (remember her?) because Peterson’s tweet supposedly indicated that he intended to “violate the safety of [the] community.” Nevermind that Peterson’s tweet, which rhetorically needled his critics for using the “safe spaces” trope, threatened nothing more than Peterson’s intent to speak.

Pollack-Pelzner is now suing the university, while Davis, after making false statements to his institution’s own investigators and firing a tenured faculty member, is somehow still president.

The damage done to Linfield’s reputation by its inclusion on this list pales in comparison to the damage it has inflicted upon itself.

University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Regardless of what one thinks of Nikole Hannah-Jones’s journalistic endeavors, if news reports prove accurate, the UNC Board’s refusal to even consider tenure in a fair and transparent process threatens academic freedom and undermines shared governance.
Nikole Hannah-Jones was initially denied tenure at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Alice Vergueiro / Wikimedia Commons)

University snoops through inboxes of faculty members who criticized the board of trustees.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found itself at the center of a national controversy in May, when news broke that the UNC board of trustees diverted from the normal tenure process and declined to consider tenure for Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones, despite a faculty recommendation that she be hired with tenure. FIRE expressed concern over this divergence from tradition, which appeared to be based on Hannah-Jones’ viewpoint. But things went from bad to worse when the university started snooping through the inboxes of faculty members who had been critical of the trustees’ actions.

Specifically, UNC targeted journalism professors Deb Aikat and Daniel Kreiss, who both have given interviews or spoken out on social media about their frustration with the university’s handling of Hannah-Jones’ tenure bid. UNC called Aikat and Kreiss in for investigatory meetings, claiming it was doing its due diligence to discover who had disclosed the allegedly confidential donor agreement between UNC and Walter Hussman — the mega donor after whom UNC’s journalism school is named.

The problem? Neither Aikat nor Kreiss had access to the donor agreement before it was widely distributed. Thus, it would have been difficult for either professor to be the source of the alleged leak, making the investigation’s focus on them appear to be retaliation for their criticism of the university. On the other hand, numerous administrators, development personnel, and administrative staff did have access to the document before its wide distribution.

Making the investigation into Aikat and Kreiss more concerning is the university’s violation of its own Privacy and Electronic Information Policy, which provides that the university will generally not look through the emails of faculty members. By surveilling the emails of faculty critics, UNC brazenly ignored both this policy and basic notions of academic freedom.

University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)

University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs
After faculty accused the University of Florida of barring them from testifying in a voting rights lawsuit, President Kent Fuchs (pictured) promised reforms. (Ed Rosato / USA Today)

Feel free to serve as an expert witness, as long as your testimony isn’t “adverse to the university’s interests.”

In an unusual and brazen act of censorship, the University of Florida blocked three political science professors from testifying as expert witnesses in a lawsuit challenging a Florida law which places restrictions on voting.

In October, after professors Sharon Wright Austin, Michael McDonald, and Daniel Smith filed disclosure forms with UF concerning their planned involvement in the voting rights lawsuit, the university denied the requests, vaguely claiming that the professors’ activity “may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida” and that “litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.”

UF’s shocking decision drew widespread media coverage and sharp criticism of the university’s violation of the professors’ First Amendment rights and academic freedom. More faculty members soon came forward to describe how UF had similarly barred their participation in state-involved litigation. UF initially rebuffed the criticism and tested out a new rationale: It had simply rejected the professors’ requests to do outside paid work that is “adverse” to the university’s interests, nevermind that the First Amendment protects paid and unpaid speakers alike.

FIRE wrote to UF on Nov. 1, explaining that faculty at public universities retain a constitutional right to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern. That includes the right to speak — whether through court testimony, scholarship, op-ed, or other platforms — about a state law affecting voting procedures for millions of people, regardless of how much that speech might upset administrators or government officials. UF’s prior restraint on the professors’ speech also disregards the institution’s own commitments to academic freedom and stated interest in “sharing the benefits of our research and knowledge for the public good.”

Under rising pressure, UF relented and allowed the professors to testify, and ultimately revised its policy governing faculty members’ outside activities to make it more speech-protective. But the professors sued, and, in a blistering decision, a federal judge blocked UF from enforcing even the revised policy because it still gave the university too much discretion. It didn’t help that the chairman of UF’s board of trustees went on record condemning faculty members who “improperly advocate personal political viewpoints to the exclusion of others.”

Add to that reports of administrators censoring a professor’s curriculum and restricting COVID-19-related research, and it’s safe to say the climate for free expression at UF remains chilly, if not subzero.

Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Texas)

Entrance sign to Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
Tarleton State University censored its student-run newspaper. (Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons)

Threatened with a bogus defamation lawsuit, a student newspaper suffers a coup . . . by the university.

The situation at Texan News Service, a formerly independent student publication at Tarleton State University, is starting to feel like the song that never ends.

In 2018, Tarleton disciplined TNS’ then-adviser for maintaining the confidentiality of several students who alleged that former professor Michael Landis had sexually harassed them. Fast forward to 2021: Landis, now an adjunct professor in New York with a bone to pick, had his attorney write to TNS, threatening to sue for defamation unless the publication removes several articles from 2018 which detail the allegations against him.

The problems with this legal threat are many. For one, any claims Landis may have had for defamation were clearly time-barred: Texas requires defamation claims be made within one year of publication, and the newest TNS article mentioning Landis was just shy of three years old. For two, the articles are simply not defamatory. As we explained in our Aug. 30 letter, the articles are covered by a Texas statute that protects the right of periodicals to accurately report on allegations — even if those allegations turn out to be untrue. Further, Landis could not have proved that the articles were substantially false, a requirement to make a prima facie case for libel. After all, while Tarleton did not find sufficient evidence that Landis had committed sexual harassment in 2018, it did find that he “acted inappropriately.”

When you’re a student journalist, getting a bogus legal threat from a lawyer can be scary. But you know what can be more scary? Having that followed by a threat of censorship by your university. And that’s exactly what happened next.

Administrators told TNS’ editor that she had a choice: Remove the Landis articles or lose university funding. Worried about losing funding, she removed most of the articles. But that apparently wasn’t enough for Tarleton. It is our understanding that Tarleton has now revoked TNS’ status as an independent student publication, ripping editorial decision-making authority out of the hands of the student editors, and placing it in the hands of the administratively appointed faculty adviser.

For months, FIRE has been seeking public records related to this apparent coup; unfortunately, Tarleton has placed the cherry on top of this censorship sundae by refusing to produce some of the critical records FIRE has requested. But don’t worry, we’re still on the case, and we will update you as we learn more.

Collin College (McKinney, Texas)

Lora Burnett victory
Collin College professor Lora Burnett.

Amidst multiple lawsuits from ousted professors, Collin College attempts to ban “anger.”

In 2021, Collin College made its debut on our infamous list. That year, FIRE wrote to Collin College after the college issued a written warning to history professor Lora Burnett following her tweets about the debate between then-Vice President Mike Pence and then-Sen. Kamala Harris, which was included in a conservative media outlet’s roundup.

That was bad enough, but the college didn’t stop there. In February, Collin College declined to renew Burnett’s contract, so, in October, she filed a lawsuit. And just last week, Burnett prevailed, securing $70,000 and attorneys' fees for the rights violation.

Burnett isn’t alone. Collin College’s senior leadership also overturned a committee’s recommendation that the college renew the contracts of two faculty members, Audra Heaslip and Suzanne Jones — coincidentally, two of the three officers of a newly-formed chapter of the Texas Faculty Association, a non-bargaining faculty union. Both Heaslip and Jones had criticized the college’s handling of COVID-19 (which district president H. Neil Matkin shrugged off in August as “blown utterly out of proportion”).

In cutting ties with Heaslip and Jones, administrators cited their perceived lack of support for the administration’s approach to the pandemic. Jones was also faulted for having signed a 2017 petition, which called for the removal of Confederate memorials (signed as “Suzanne Jones, education professor, Collin College”), and for referencing the college’s name on the Texas Faculty Association’s website.

In September, Jones filed a federal lawsuit to vindicate her First Amendment rights.

The public took notice of Collin College’s cavalier attitude toward the First Amendment rights of its faculty, and some expressed outrage during board meetings. Perhaps attempting to live up to its reputation as one of the worst colleges in the country for free expression, the college reacted by attempting to ban people from expressing “anger” and from engaging in “personal attacks” during its meetings. After FIRE covered the incident, the college claimed that the guidelines, which were distributed to members of the public, were a “draft” that had been “distributed to the local media without proper context.” Right.

Thankfully, faculty are fighting back. And FIRE is here to help them vindicate their rights.

“I hope I am the last professor that Collin College fires for exercising her First Amendment rights, but if history is any indication, no one who has an opinion is safe from Collin College leaders’ thin skin,” said Burnett.

UPDATE: Lora Burnett was not the last. FIRE is reigniting its fight against Collin College, this time by defending a professor who was fired last week after teaching his students the history of mask use during pandemics and calling for the removal of statues of Confederate generals. Stay tuned!

Lifetime Censorship Award: Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)

The school that sent a student a pre-written apology for his “thought crime” has a lot to be sorry for.

How could a world-renowned institution of higher learning like Yale, which famously recommitted itself to freedom of expression and inquiry in 1974, end up running away with a Lifetime Censorship Award?

The usual way; by repeatedly violating the free expression and academic freedom rights of students and scholars. In each case, when someone pointed out wrongdoing, Yale administrators rationalized the outcome, defended the censorship, or ignored the problem entirely. Yale’s formidable academic reputation is on a collision course with reality, and there’s no sign that its leadership is even trying to swerve.

In 2015, Yale’s administration shrugged while students hounded Nicholas and Erika Christakis out of their positions at Silliman College for having the audacity to stand up for students’ freedom of expression. It ignored the 2019 cancellation of a program on “Dissent and Resistance in Singapore” at the overseas college it operates as a joint venture with the National University of Singapore.

In September, the director of its Grand Strategy program resigned after Yale appointed an oversight board to advise on appointments, following donor questions about the program’s ideological content. Yale defended the decision as necessary to meet the terms of the donations.

In October, Yale attempted to pressure a law student into apologizing for sending an email in which he used the term “trap house” to refer to the location of a party hosted by his student organization, going so far as to encourage him to share a pre-written apology. In December, a lecturer at the Yale School of Medicine went public with her experience of being targeted by residents who accused her of having a “racist canon” for arguing that racial disparity in health care may have complex causes beyond provider bias.

Despite all of this, Yale continues to talk a good game. In response to the resignation of the Grand Strategy director, Yale President Peter Salovey told the Yale Daily News that “academic freedom to teach and do scholarship in an unfettered way . . . is sacrosanct at the University.”

But two weeks earlier, in a court filing in a lawsuit from an adjunct professor alleging her contract was not renewed because of her speech, Yale’s lawyers wrote that the 1974 document in which it committed itself to freedom of inquiry was “a statement of principles, not a set of contractual promises.” The argument, literally, is that Yale is free to abandon its principles.

And so it has. Yale’s commitment to free speech has evaporated. It hasn’t protected student speech. It hasn’t protected faculty speech. It hasn’t protected the speech of visiting lecturers, or of students from administrators, or of faculty from censorship-prone students. Some institutions resort to censorship in times of financial stress or in the face of existential threats.

But Yale doesn’t seem to be running out of money or applicants — just principles.

For abandoning its once-cherished “statement of principles” regarding freedom of speech and inquiry, Yale now joins DePaul University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Syracuse University as a recipient of FIRE’s Lifetime Censorship Award. Congrats!

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