- Top-ranked UChicago, four state universities round out the top five
- 63% of students fear reputational damage if they speak their minds
- OFF LIMITS: Majorities say campus speakers with non-liberal viewpoints should not be allowed on campus
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 7, 2022 — The largest survey on student free expression ever conducted adds 45,000 student voices to the national conversation about free speech on college campuses — and finds that many are afraid to speak out on their campus. Many others want to silence the voices of those who don’t share their viewpoints, creating campus echo chambers.
Sayonara, debate and disagreement; hello, campus kumbaya.
Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, in partnership with College Pulse, released the third annual College Free Speech Rankings, ranking the speech climates of 203 of America’s largest and most prestigious campuses in order from top (the University of Chicago) to bottom (Columbia University).
“That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture,” said 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 top colleges for free speech:
1. University of Chicago
2. Kansas State University
3. Purdue University
4. Mississippi State University
5. Oklahoma State University
The worst colleges for free speech:
199. Skidmore College
200. Georgetown University
201. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
202. University of Pennsylvania
203. Columbia University
The rankings rely heavily on student responses. Each school’s speech code rating also factored into the scoring; Most schools without any policies that imperil free speech rose in the rankings, while those with restrictive speech codes fell.
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.
Other findings from the report include:
- Conservative students are most likely to feel they cannot express their opinions freely, with 42% reporting that they “often” feel uncomfortable speaking freely, compared to 13% of liberal students.
- 40% of students are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor — in public or in a written assignment.
- The three most difficult topics to discuss on campus are abortion, racial inequality, and COVID-19 vaccine mandates.
The study also found that majorities of students believe campus speakers with opinions that stray from liberal orthodoxy should not be allowed to speak on campus. FIRE doesn’t take a stance on any of the following issues, but firmly believes that they’re all within the bounds of open campus debate and discussion.
- 74% do not support allowing a campus speaker who says transgender people have a mental disorder (rising to over 90% at some campuses)
- 74% do not support allowing one who says Black Lives Matter is a hate group
- 69% do not support allowing one who says the 2020 election was stolen
- 60% do not support allowing one who says abortion should be completely illegal
FIRE hopes that prospective college students and their parents will use the rankings to make informed decisions about where to apply.
“The situation for freedom of speech and academic freedom has been in trouble on campus since before FIRE was founded in 1999," said 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.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought—the most essential qualities of liberty. FIRE recognizes that colleges and universities play a vital role in preserving free thought within a free society. To this end, we place a special emphasis on defending the individual rights of students and faculty members on our nation’s campuses, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience.
Katie Kortepeter, Media Relations Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com