The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), in partnership with College Pulse, has released the third annual College Free Speech Rankings, ranking the speech climates of 203 of America’s largest campuses. I am happy to report that my alma mater, the University of Chicago, took the top position in protecting free speech. At the bottom of the list is Columbia university. George Washington University does not fair well. It is 171 out of 203 near the bottom of the ranking.
I have long praised UChicago for its courageous stand in favor of free speech at a time of rising intolerance for opposing views on our campuses. I also have praised Purdue University, which is ranked third after Kansas State University.
I have also been a critic of my other alma mater, Northwestern University, which has been equally prominent in its anti-free speech culture. Northwestern ranks 197 out of 203.
The top five are filled out by Mississippi State University and Oklahoma State University.
The bottom five are also familiar universities for readers of this blog, which are routinely the subject of anti-free speech controversies. That includes Skidmore College (199) (here and here), Georgetown University (here and here and here and here), and University of Pennsylvania (202) (here and here and here).
There is clearly no penalty or deterrent for university presidents or faculties who have created such environments of intolerance and orthodoxy. They have turned their faculties and classes into echo chambers of an increasingly narrow views and values. Despite polls of students who express fear of expressing themselves, professors dismiss such concerns while continuing to reduce the diversity of viewpoints on their faculties and in publications.
The fact is that the reduction of viewpoint diversity is not just a reflection of intolerance and intellectual rigidity. It also offers greater opportunities for faculty in access to conferences, publications, and speaking events. Other faculty, including some who have contacted this blog with accounts or controversies, are fearful of being publicly targeted by their colleagues or students. In three decades of teaching, I have never seen this level of intolerance and the general lack of support for free speech on many campuses.
The only way to reverse this trend is for students and families to take note of these rankings in both applications and donations. Free speech is not some tangential element to education; it is the very life’s blood of our profession. These faculties are doing lasting damage to higher education with their bias and intolerance. The only hope is to use economic pressure, particularly on university presidents, to support the policies of universities like UChicago in standing firm on free speech.