Crimson Tide: A New Study Shows the Continued Decline of Free Speech on Campuses

Below is my column in The Messenger on the new ranking of colleges and universities on the protection of free speech on campuses. There are few surprises on the list with many of the most elite universities filling out the bottom of ranking as the most hostile to free expression. Harvard now holds the ignoble distinction of being the most anti-free speech university in the country. For full disclosure, George Washington University (where I teach) was again ranked “below average” on free speech, coming in at 185 out of 248.

Here is the column:

Harvard University has long prided itself on being the place for “curve-breakers,” a super-achieving university that leaves other schools as distant seconds. The recent ranking of schools by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) on free speech in higher education certainly fulfilled that reputation, but not in the way most would want.

Harvard was ranked dead last as the country’s most hostile school for free speech. It received a score of 0.000 — and even that was subject to grade inflation; its actual score was -10.69.

Harvard’s dismal ranking is of little surprise to most of us in the free-speech community. While Harvard recently committed itself to “having a conversation” about free speech, any conversation may prove strikingly one-sided. A Harvard Crimson study found that most departments had effectively purged their ranks of conservatives. Only 1.46% of the faculty now self-identifies as “conservative,” while 82.46% of faculty surveyed identifies as “liberal” or “very liberal.” This, in a country that has split down the middle between Republicans and Democrats.

Harvard is perceived as equally hostile to students voicing opposing viewpoints. Given the faculty’s makeup, it is not surprising that only 35% of that dwindling number of students feel comfortable in voicing their views or values in class. For many, the speech intolerance on campus is crossing the line from education to indoctrination.

Yet, pundits have defended the elimination of conservatives from university faculties. Above the Law senior editor Joe Patrice defended “predominantly liberal faculties” in a column arguing that hiring a conservative academic was akin to allowing a believer in geocentrism — that the sun orbits the earth — to teach at a university.

Harvard faculty also have been some of the loudest voices for censorship and blacklisting, including stripping conservative graduates like Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) of their degrees or board positions.

Harvard is not alone in creating an environment of viewpoint intolerance. Other schools at the bottom of the list include the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, the University of South Carolina and Fordham University.

The inclusion of the University of South Carolina stands out in an important respect: The lowest-ranking schools have tended to be private universities, which are not subject to the full protections of free speech under the First Amendment. Conversely, the top performers this year are, notably, all public universities — Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University.

Indeed, in the top-20 schools for free speech, only two are private universities, the University of Chicago and Washington & Lee University. The placement of the University of South Carolina at the bottom of the list is a testament to the resistance of some administrators and faculty members to free speech.

Much like woke corporations, faculty continue to exclude conservative professors and limit free speech despite the desire of many students to attend speech-tolerant institutions. Such speech limits serve faculty in advancing promotions, publications and speaking opportunities. The result could be the Bud Light version of higher education: These faculty members are damaging their brand to advance their own agendas.

The fact is that the better performance of public universities likely reflects compulsion rather than agreement for many faculty. Public universities must protect free speech as a matter of law. Even at top performers like Washington & Lee, professors have joined calls to ban conservative speakers. The inclination of these faculties is still reflected in the continued replication of liberal viewpoints with the exclusion of conservative faculty members. One study found that 33 out of 65 departments lacked a single conservative faculty member. Only 9% of law professors identify as conservatives.

The result, however, is a startling and growing divide among private and public universities. For parents and students who value free speech, they must increasingly look to public universities where faculty are subject to constitutional guarantees.

In the same way, public universities may be the final line of defense for free-speech advocates.

As shown by the FIRE survey, we now largely have two systems of higher education for those seeking education with a diversity of opinions and viewpoints. Except for outliers like the University of Chicago and other private universities holding the line on free speech, the orthodoxy found at private universities remains a barrier to many conservative and independent thinkers.

If we are to protect these bastions of free speech, legislatures will need to play a more active role in addressing the exclusion of both faculty candidates and speakers on public campuses. Too many faculties continue to take the view that citizens are a captive audience that is expected to continue to fund their departments as they exclude conservative or dissenting views held by many, if not most, citizens in a given state. If faculty members want to continue to maintain echo chambers for their own viewpoints, they should have to seek private donors for maintaining such intolerance and orthodoxy. Legislatures can demand evidence that schools are maintaining intellectually diverse faculties in determining the level of continued support from citizens.

Many of us still hope that private universities will return to policies of viewpoint tolerance and diversity. However, it is unlikely. The Harvard Crimson editors previously interviewed one of the last remaining conservatives on the Harvard faculty, 90-year-old political scientist Harvey Mansfield, who decried the loss of intellectual diversity. However, after poking Mansfield like he was a curiosity found on campus, the student editors wrote that there was no reason to worry about the disappearance of conservative faculty because free speech and diversity concerns are merely “reductive.”

In other words, it is simplistic to expect any conservative or libertarian professor to teach at Harvard. Students can always hear about conservative or libertarian views from liberal faculty. If anyone doubts their existence, they still may be able to spot Mansfield, who is retired, moving around campus. Short of being stuffed and displayed at the Harvard Museum, he could prove the last, lingering evidence of a once tolerant university.

Jonathan Turley, an attorney, constitutional law scholar and legal analyst, is the Shapiro Chair for Public Interest Law at The George Washington University Law School.

44 thoughts on “Crimson Tide: A New Study Shows the Continued Decline of Free Speech on Campuses”

  1. Was this study done before or after the state of Florida passed laws restricting how race, gender and sexual orientation could be discussed in public college classrooms?

    1. Florida decided to protect the children and the rights of parents. What type of person are you that wishes third parties to usurp the parent’s role? What type of person are you to sexualize third graders. Are you part of the groomer’s club?

  2. I’m surprised my alma mater Brown University wasn’t closer to the bottom. Harvard was always in Bruno’s opinion “Radix malorum est cupiditas”.

  3. Sept 8, 1636 is the founding date of Harvard University as the first university in colonial America. It was founded to train ministers. The depths it has fallen in denying freedom of speech is tragic. Why anyone would waste the money to attend this institution, or any other such university, is beyond understanding.

    1. The antithetical and unconstitutional communist infestation began when Lincoln, at the behest of Karl Marx, denied fully constitutional secession and it hasn’t stopped since.

      “They consider…that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln…to lead his country through…the reconstruction of a social world.”

      – Karl Marx To Abraham Lincoln, 1865

      1. Yes, a social world without slaves. That was their common interest. Marx and the major newspapers of the time (who Marx wrote articles for) all had similar ideas. Lincoln mulled over a lot of ideas, but made up his own mind. This ” Lincoln was a Marxist/ Communist” who wanted to remake the United States under Marx’s direction is total nonsense. George, you pick up on the most ridiculous ideas and hold on to them like a bulldog with a bone. Newsflash – the Civil War is over and no one can nullify the result no matter how unconstitutional some people consider the war to have been. There was plenty of “unconstitutional ” behavior to go around on both sides. Let that rotten bone go.


    If the democrats can organize corrupt, radical, activist billionaires, district attorneys, judges and courts, and take out oppositional republican candidates by “lawfare,” the Supreme Court can take “desperate measures” in these “desperate times” to fulfill the sworn oaths of its Justices and “support” the literal manifest tenor of the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court may invoke Judicial Review, upon the completion of any federal, state or local, legislative or executive act, in order to support and implement the literal manifest tenor of the Constitution.

    The Supreme Court must act now before the total destruction of the American constitutional republic and the irrevocable imposition of the principles of communism under the “dictatorship of the proletariat” are complete.

    The Power of Judicial Review

    The Supreme Court can strike down any law or other action by the legislative or executive branch that violates the Constitution.

    This power of judicial review applies to federal, state, and local legislative and executive actions.

    – Justia

    “…courts…must…declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void.”

    “…men…do…what their powers do not authorize, [and] what they forbid.”

    “[A] limited Constitution … can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing … To deny this would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid.”

    – Alexander Hamilton

    1. It took acting retroactively by 50 years for the Supreme Court to correct America back to the Constitution with reference to the eminently unconstitutional and co-called “federal right” to abortion.

      The communists (liberals, progressives, socialists, democrats, RINOs, AINOs) were able to hold America hostage for those 50 long years due to the wilful dereliction and negligence of the judicial branch.

      1. You clearly have no idea what communism is. It’s a political/economic ideology that endorses single-party rule and public ownership of all major industry. Abortion policy has no more to do with communism than traffic lights do.

  5. The federal government, with a GOP president, could withhold federal grants and bar universities from accepting international students unless they score at least average on reputable free speech rankings.

  6. Liberty University is very tolerant of opposing views. The students are very polite. They don’t scream like rabid demons.

  7. In a country billed as the land for the free, students should be taught how to liberate each other, not oppress each other.

  8. Foreign billionaires are not allowed to contribute and affect our elections. That hasn’t stopped Swiss benefactor Hansjörg Wyss from admitting to “six figures of illegal donations in the 1990s,” according to Mark Hemingway of RealClearInvestigations.

    Hemingway has just penned an investigative piece on Wyss that refers to OMG’s investigation showing an Act Blue donation hitch that has the markings of a sophisticated money laundering operation because Wyss himself may be key.

    He brazenly admitted to illegal donations after the statutes of limitations had passed on the illegal act, almost as if he was intent on proving how willing he is to make good on what his own sister has described as his intention to “[re]interpret the American Constitution in the light of progressive politics.”

    We have just published an interview with Hemingway about Wyss and the massive holes in the so-called guard rails of democracy such as the Federal Election Commission.


    1. Soros must have been charged and prosecuted for election crimes, fraud, corruption and complicity a very long time ago.

      1. That’s a profoundly ironic comment to make on an article about freedom of speech. It proves that extremists on both sides have little regard for the speech rights of their political opponents.

  9. Reform at a school like Harvard is, I’m afraid, impossible at this point. My focus would be on the tax exempt status of such establishments. We grant an institution like Harvard tax exempt status because we believe they serve an important public purpose. But Harvard, and most other private universities, no longer serve such a purpose. Instead they have chosen to become political actors and part of the Blue nomenklatura and they should be taxed accordingly.

  10. To Ralph de Minimis, Most of us just don’t bother to answer your epistles because they advance no thought or knowledge. Mainly the usual readers feel you supply a sick type of humor as in “you might turn out like this unenlightened individual if you continue to be a mouthpiece for the progressive fascists or if you applaud universities where no diversity of thought or speech or even reason are tolerated”

  11. Sometimes free speech requires more than talk. It requires restraining those preventing it. Suspend students or expel them. Repeating an explanation without escalating the punishment means failure. Some are agitators who depend on passiveness. They create the environment at the school because administrators are too scared to put them in their place.

  12. A growing area for non-DEI and “inclusive” higher education.
    Form a separate, parallel education system that sticks to education excellence and not leftist indoctrination. These new schools would produce far better grads ready for real life and work. Industry would be much more inclined to hire them than an indoctrinated leftist.

  13. Legislatures can demand evidence that schools are maintaining intellectually diverse faculties in determining the level of continued support from citizens.

    Not a bad idea. Another idea: amend the federal Civil Rights Act to make any university that receives federal funding subject to the First Amendment’s free speech guarantees. Since Harvard is not a state actor, why was Harvard subject to the Equal Protection Clause in the Students for Fair Admissions case? Because of the Civil Rights Act, title VI of which bans discrimination because of race, color, or national origin in programs receiving federal funding. Why can’t the same thing be done for free speech?

  14. Colleges are becoming less and less diverse in what really matters in higher education: Diversity of thought. At the same time, they are becoming far less inclusive when they do not foster opinions and thinking that are conservative while actively discouraging students to voice thoughts that differ from the Democrat Party and Leftist lines. Yet, like Harvard, they claim to stand for Diversity and Inclusion. They obviously do not. It is way past time for alumni to stop contributing to the colleges that foster hate towards those administrators, faculty and students who have different, primarily conservative, libertarian, or even moderate views and make your voices heard.

  15. Why should any governmental funds in any shape or form be made available to any institution that ignores the 1st amendment and blackballs conservative or liberal professors?

    1. Plus, silencing people is SO yesterday’s Stalinism when these days it’s much more fashionably fake “free speech” to just hire a few trolls to launch ad hominem attacks on your critics. I guess they must teach that technique in law schools these days.

  16. Nit-pick on the headline: “Crimson tide” refers to Alabama. With Harvard, it just the Harvard Crimson.

    1. “Nit-pick on the headline”

      “Tide,” as in: “a unified feeling about a certain opinion or topic.”

      So actually, it’s a very clever headline.

  17. Why should anyone expect a college campus to be any different than the government or GARBAGE media, where censorship rules and
    “free speech” is just a sick punchline peddled by pretend “free speech advocates” (LOL LOL LOL) such as someone who shall remain nameless while his webmaster decides which comments to allow and which to block (or claim that it’s really the hosting service that blocks comments which he COULD restore but decides whether or not to restore based upon his own opinion of the comments).

    The more Turley talks about this subject, the sicker the joke becomes. And it doesn’t help that he’s the go-to pundit at Fox “News,” which became one of the most-flagrant censors on the diseased web shortly after Murdoch decided to go full anti-Trump.

    Listening to Turley talk about “free speech” is like listening to Joetard talk about securing the Mexican border or listening to dieting tips from Stacey Abrams.

    1. Reading anything from Ralphie about intelligent matters is like listening to Hunter Biden talk about being a devoted spouse and father or Joe Biden talk about the need for politicians to be honest and use clear thinking

      Expected response from RDM:

      this is a garbage website. No respectable website would allow such ad hominem comments except those employed by me against Turley and those who critique me

      1. Turley’s “Anonymous” hired attack dog says what? Typical lying fraud attacks a commenter instead of commenting on the subject of the article. This is one of the most disgrace sites on the entire garbage web.

        1. “this is a garbage website.”

          “This is one of the most disgrace sites on the entire garbage web.”

          Pretty good prediction by Anonymous

  18. The ’60’s have worked their magic, haven’t they. Control the minds and the vote and you have the power. What fools we mortals be.

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