Intolerance of free speech at the nation’s colleges has increased, while students’ tolerance of using violence to stop free speech has increased, a survey of U.S. colleges released Thursday finds.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s (FIRE) “2024 College Free Speech Rankings” study, conducted January 13 to June 30, 2023 by College Pulse, ranks the free speech cultures of 248 of America’s largest and most prestigious campuses, incorporating survey responses from more than 55,000 current students.
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.
“Each year, the climate on college campuses grows more inhospitable to free speech,” FIRE Director of Polling and Analytics Sean Stevens said in a release announcing the survey results. “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.”
Of the 248 schools, Michigan Tech ranks the most supportive of free speech.
Harvard ranks dead last, with the lowest possible score (0.0). Harvard is the only school with a speech climate rating of “abysmal.” Harvard ranked especially low in the “Comfort Expressing Ideas” and “Disruptive Conduct” categories.
Many students self-censor themselves, out of fear of reprisal, FIRE’s release notes:
“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.”
More than half of students say they’re worried they’ll damage their reputation someone because someone misinterprets what they say.
They say the most difficult topics to discuss on campus are:
- Gun control,
- Racial inequality, and
- Transgender rights.
While 73% of students say that using violence to stop a campus speech is never acceptable, that number is down from 80% last year. At Oberlin College, only about half (53%) of students say that violence is never acceptable.
Students are also much more tolerant of liberal speech than they are of conservative speech. Up to 72% of students oppose allowing a conservative speaker on campus, depending on the topic, while up to 43% of students oppose allowing a liberal speaker on campus.
The top 10 colleges for free speech:
1. Michigan Technological University
2. Auburn University
3. University of New Hampshire
4. Oregon State University
5. Florida State University
6. University of Virginia
7. Texas A&M University
8. George Mason University
9. University of North Carolina at Greensboro
10. University of Colorado Boulder
The 10 worst colleges for free speech:
239. University of Texas, Austin
240. Dartmouth College
241. Duquesne University
242. Northwestern University
243. Skidmore College
244. Fordham University
245. Georgetown University
246. University of South Carolina
247. University of Pennsylvania
248. Harvard University
Read FIRE’s full 2024 College Free Speech Rankings report.