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New FIRE survey suggests more than a million students investigated or punished for their speech

Discipline survey
  • Survey of more than 2,000 students reveals shocking levels of punishment for constitutionally protected expression, with 1 in 10 college students punished or threatened with punishment for their speech.
  • Dorms are the most common location for speech landing students in hot water.
  • 38% of students said speech they've heard on campus constitutes “an act of violence.”

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 6, 2023 —  According to a new survey of 2,007 undergraduates by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression and College Pulse, more than a million American students may have landed in hot water for their speech in the past several years.

The survey focused on students’ experiences with expression and discipline on campus. It revealed that 1 in 10 college students has been disciplined or threatened with discipline by college administrators over their speech. If this sounds low, consider that given the total undergraduate population as of 2021, about 1.4 million undergraduate students may have been punished or threatened with discipline for their speech. 

“When students are as likely to be punished for their speech as they are to be left-handed, the situation on campus is clearly out of hand,” said FIRE Director of Polling and Analytics Sean Stevens. “And worse, this will have a snowball effect, because students whose peers are censored will be more likely to keep their mouths shut.”

Three percent of students reported being punished by their administration for their speech, while an additional 6% said they were threatened with discipline. When asked where the offending speech occurred, 26% of those students responded that it happened in their dorm rooms and 22% said it occurred in a meeting with an administrator. 

What’s more, students believe that words can equal violence: 38% of students responded in the survey that something they’ve heard someone say on campus is an “act of violence.”

These findings may help explain why self-censorship among college students is so pervasive. FIRE’s College Free Speech Rankings revealed that more than a quarter of students (26%) censor themselves at least a few times a week in conversations with friends, and a quarter said they are more likely to self-censor now than they were when starting college.


“It’s a dark day for free speech when students aren’t safe to express themselves in their own dorm rooms,” said FIRE President and CEO Greg Lukianoff. “We hope that this data is a wake-up call for administrators and pushes them to examine the way they respond to reports of offensive speech. When in doubt, they should reach out to FIRE for guidance rather than disciplining students for sharing their opinions.”

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 or @CollegeInsights on Twitter.

The survey was conducted between Sept. 5 and Oct. 20, 2023, and the margin of error is +/- 2%.


Katie Kortepeter, Communications Campaign Manager, FIRE: 215-717-3473;

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