In a review of more than 150 campuses, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) reports free speech is most protected at the University of Chicago and on the campus of Claremont McKenna College, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, California.
At the rock bottom of the FIRE ranking came DePauw University, a small private campus in Greencastle, Indiana, which has a “Red Light” rating from the watchdog group from its restrictive policies.
Landing just above DePauw in the bottom ranking is Marquette University, a Jesuit school that has the thankless distinction of being the second-worst campus for free speech.
FIRE scored campuses on several areas: openness to discussing controversial topics; tolerance for liberal speakers and conservative speakers; public support for free speech from the university administrators; students’ comfort in publicly expressing ideas; polling of students’ beliefs in disrupting speech they disagree with; and FIRE’s speech code rating.
The survey found that public school campuses demonstrated more respect for free speech than private schools since only five of the bottom 30 colleges and universities are public.
FIRE researcher Sean Stevens says the top two schools, Claremont McKenna and University of Chicago, have been “very public and strong” in supporting free speech. That includes, he adds, being on the side of free speech when controversies have erupted on campus that angered left-wing students and faculty.
A survey of students found the most-controversial topics are racial inequality, abortion, and gun control. The same survey found 80% of students said they self-censor their views on campus, and 66% said they support shouting down a speaker. Among those students, 23% support using violence to stop speech their disagree with.
"If the campus is more ideologically diverse in terms of the student body,” Stevens advises, “and there's also a strong administrative stance on free speech, and their policies are clear and there aren't any punitive ones on the books, those schools do particularly well."
The FIRE free speech rankings for 2021 can be viewed here.