- The largest survey ever conducted of campus free speech ranks 248 colleges.
- Michigan Tech comes in first and the University of Virginia makes the top 10 while Harvard ranks dead last with the lowest score ever.
- At Oberlin College, only a little more than half of students think it is never acceptable to use violence to silence a campus speaker.
- Deplatforming attempts at the five lowest ranked colleges have an alarming 81% success rate.
PHILADELPHIA, Sept. 6, 2023 — Students entering college this fall can expect new friendships, all-night study sessions, dining hall food — and a culture of conformity and censorship. A new survey of more than 55,000 students across the country shows that most attend colleges that don’t value free expression.
Today, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and College Pulse released the fourth annual College Free Speech Rankings, ranking the free speech cultures of 248 of America’s largest and most prestigious campuses in order from best (Michigan Technological University) to worst (Harvard University).
“Each year, the climate on college campuses grows more inhospitable to free speech,” said FIRE Director of Polling and Analytics Sean Stevens. “Some of the most prestigious universities in our country have the most repressive administrations. Students should know that a college degree at certain schools may come at the expense of their free speech rights.”
The top colleges for free speech:
- Michigan Technological University
- Auburn University
- University of New Hampshire
- Oregon State University
- Florida State University
- University of Virginia
- Texas A&M University
- George Mason University
- University of North Carolina at Greensboro
- University of Colorado Boulder
The worst colleges for free speech:
- University of Texas, Austin
- Dartmouth College
- Duquesne University
- Northwestern University
- Skidmore College
- Fordham University
- Georgetown University
- University of South Carolina
- University of Pennsylvania
- Harvard University
The rankings rely heavily on student responses and on how schools responded to deplatforming attempts, which seek to prevent speakers from expressing themselves. 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 the board. More than a quarter of students (26%) said they censor themselves at least a few times a week in conversations with friends, and 25% said they are more likely to self-censor now — at the time of responding to the survey — than they were when starting college.
Key findings from the report:
- Harvard is by far the worst school in the country for free speech. It is the only school with an “Abysmal” rating.
- Deplatforming attempts that occurred at schools ranked in the bottom five had an alarming 81% success rate.
- Up to 72% of students opposed allowing a conservative speaker on campus, depending on the topic, while up to 43% of students opposed allowing a liberal speaker on campus.
- 73% of students said that using violence to stop a campus speech is never acceptable, down from 80% last year. At Oberlin College, only 53% of students said that violence is never acceptable.
- At a time of national dialogue about abortion policy, 49% of students have difficulty discussing abortion on campus. The most difficult topics to discuss on campus are abortion, gun control, racial inequality, and transgender rights.
- Of the 248 schools ranked, 73 have “below average,” “poor,” “very poor,” or “abysmal” speech climates. Just 47 have at least “slightly above average” speech climates. Last year, when 203 schools were ranked, these totals were 64 and 39, respectively.
“We are very pleased to see that a number of university presidents are taking the issue of freedom of speech and academic freedom seriously by signing on to free speech initiatives,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “However, they have a long way to go toward restoring public trust. After all, an environment in which you can actually get in trouble for the ‘wrong’ academic opinion is not one that can be depended upon to produce reliable knowledge. It’s especially disturbing that some of the worst performing institutions are among America’s most influential schools, including Harvard, Georgetown, Northwestern and Dartmouth.”
FIRE stands ready to help colleges protect, defend, and promote academic freedom, freedom of speech, and free inquiry.
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.
College Pulse is a survey research and analytics company dedicated to understanding the attitudes, preferences, and behaviors of today’s college students. College Pulse delivers custom data-driven marketing and research solutions, utilizing its unique American College Student Panel™ that includes over 750,000 college students and recent alumni from more than 1,500 two- and four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states. For more information, visit collegepulse.com or @CollegeInsights on Twitter.
Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com