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50 universities now earn FIRE's highest rating for free speech

Last week, FIRE awarded Mississippi’s Delta State University our “green light” rating, meaning the school does not maintain any written policies that seriously infringe on student speech rights. Here at FIRE, we celebrate every time university leaders commit to respecting free speech on campus, but this green light is extra special: 50 college and universities — the highest number ever — now earn FIRE’s top speech code rating.

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When FIRE issued our first Spotlight on Speech Codes report, only eight universities of the 334 surveyed earned a green light rating. That number increased steadily until 2015, when it started increasing rapidly as FIRE’s Policy Reform team continued to work with schools across the country to eliminate unconstitutional policies and encourage free speech. Today, more than 1 million students are enrolled at green light schools. 

Public/private split

Of the 50 universities earning FIRE’s top rating, 44 are public institutions. Public universities are legally bound by the First Amendment to respect student speech rights, while private institutions are bound by their own promises of free speech. This means that the vast majority of America’s top colleges and universities — we rate 466 institutions in total — restrict free speech in violation of the First Amendment or their own promises of free speech. And although college leaders routinely tout the importance of free speech and open inquiry, few put those words into action. 

Six private institutions maintain the green light rating. Notably, the University of Chicago and Emory University are the only green light universities in their respective states (Illinois and Georgia), meaning the two schools’ policies better respect students’ First Amendment rights than the rated public institutions in their states.

State of the states

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In recent years, several state legislatures have passed bills that require colleges to eliminate policies limiting student speech rights. Alabama, Arkansas, South Dakota, Iowa, Kentucky, and Oklahoma joined the list in 2019 alone. 

These legislative developments have contributed to several states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Arizona, and Mississippi, garnering a flurry of new green light schools. 

Today, 27 states still don’t have a single green light school. In the coming years, FIRE is hoping to change that by working with students, professors, administrators, and policymakers to reform campus speech codes. 

Help FIRE defend free speech

Take a look at FIRE’s Spotlight database to find out how much speech your college or university restricts, and use our Take Action portal on each institution’s Spotlight page to write directly to administrators about the speech policies they maintain. You can also encourage your college or university to join 66 other institutions and faculty bodies that have actively affirmed free expression and open discourse on campus by adopting the “Chicago Statement.”

Stay tuned in the coming months as FIRE continues to work with colleges around the country to make their campuses friendly toward free speech. With your help, FIRE is helping to protect First Amendment rights from coast to coast.

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