Harvard Ranks Dead Last in New College Free Speech Rankings
Last month, the Foundation of Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) released their new 2024 College Free Speech Rankings. In developing the rankings, FIRE surveyed 55,102 students from 254 different public and private colleges and universities. These students were asked a variety of questions like how comfortable they felt expressing their views on campus, how much they felt their campus administrators supported free speech, whether it is acceptable to disrupt and prevent a speaker from being heard, and more. While some schools shined in the report, many others still have much work to do.
The top 5 schools in the ranking were:
- Michigan Technological University
- Auburn University
- University of New Hampshire
- Oregon State University
- Florida State University
The bottom 5 schools were:
- Fordham University
- Georgetown University
- University of South Carolina
- University of Pennsylvania
- Harvard University
Notably, Harvard University, widely regarded as one of the best schools in the country, was not only ranked last in the report but also earned a score of 0.00 and the sole title of having an “abysmal” campus speech climate. FIRE notes in the report that this score was “generous” since Harvard’s actual score was -10.69.
Nationally, FIRE’s survey found a significant partisan divide, saying that “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.” An alarming number of students – 27% — said that using violence to stop a campus speech is at least sometimes acceptable.
The 2024 rankings demonstrate that many public and private institutions of higher education have significant work to do in ensuring that their campuses are truly welcoming of different ideas and viewpoints.
FIRE’s 2024 College Free Speech Rankings report will hopefully serve as a loud wake-up call for certain institutions to prioritize their student’s constitutionally protected rights of free expression. However, this is often not the case and students have frequently sought FIRE’s help in taking legal action against schools whose conduct continues to contravene first-amendment principles.
Having dozens of active lawsuits open against various educational institutions, FIRE continues to showcase the process civilians can utilize to effectively respond to authorities which violate their rights to free speech: rank them, then warn them, and then sue them.
Policymakers looking to improve the free speech climate at their state’s public colleges and universities can consult two ALEC model policies – The Forming Open and Robust University Minds (FORUM) Act and the Free Speech in Higher Education Act – to accomplish this goal. The FORUM Act, whose provisions have been implemented in at least 20 different states, prohibits the use of so-called “free speech zones,” ensures that all publicly accessible outdoor areas of campus are available for students to express their views, and creates a private cause of action for students whose free speech rights were violated on the campus of a public or private college or university. The Free Speech in Higher Education Act, which became a model policy last year, prohibits the use of “bias response teams,” which are often used to intimidate students into self-censoring.