Latest FIRE Report: America’s elite universities are the worst for free speech

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“The situation for freedom of speech and academic freedom has been in trouble on campus since before FIRE was founded in 1999. That situation has gotten far worse in the last few years.”

—GREG LUKIANOFF, FIRE CEO

The state of free speech on U.S. college campuses has grown dismal, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), which has released its yearly report and rankings of 203 four-year public and private schools, which is based in part on a survey of nearly 45,000 college students.


Quick Facts


FIRE is a non-profit that advocates for freedom of speech and other First Amendment rights. FIRE’s survey is touted as the largest survey on student free expression ever conducted. The student responses, combined with administrative behavior towards free speech, was analyzed to determine FIRE’s 2022 College Free Speech Rankings.

Of the 203 colleges assessed, the University of Chicago finished at the top of the list and New York City’s Columbia University came in dead last.

The schools received a score of 0 to 100 based on six sub-components of student responses and four sub-components of administrative behavior.

The University of Chicago received a score of 77.92 and a speech climate rating of “good.” Columbia received a score of 9.91 and the only speech climate rating of “abysmal.”

Rounding out the top five were Kansas State University, Purdue University-Main Campus, Mississippi State University, and Oklahoma State University. Numbers 199 through 202 were the University of Pennsylvania, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Georgetown University, and Skidmore College.

Students were asked questions regarding their comfort expressing ideas, tolerance for liberal speakers, tolerance for conservative speakers, disruptive conduct, administrative support, and openness.

Tolerance for speakers was determined by students’ answers to whether speakers espousing various views that could be offensive to students with opposing views should be allowed on campus. The disruptive conduct scores indicate students’ responses on whether they think it is appropriate to engage in various conduct in order to prevent a person from speaking.

Administrative support was determined by students’ responses on how clear the school administration’s position on free speech was and how likely they were to defend a speaker’s free speech rights.

Openness was derived from students’ responses to how difficult it would be to have open conversations about 17 different controversial topics.

Student responses showed a concerning disregard for free speech both by administration officials and by students. 63 percent of students reported feeling worried about damaging their reputation based on someone else misunderstanding them, 22 percent said they self-censor, and 40 percent said they are uncomfortable disagreeing with a professor. Perhaps more concerning are the students’ views on free speech. 63 percent said that shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus was at least somewhat acceptable.

The administrative categories were the number of scholars whose free speech rights were supported by the administration during controversy, the number of scholars the school sanctioned, the number of dis-invites, and the school’s FIRE speech code rating.

The survey showed a disturbing bias against conservative students. 42 percent of conservative students reported “often” feeling uncomfortable speaking freely while only 13 percent of liberal students felt the same. A majority of students also believe that speakers whose views differ from liberal views should not be allowed to speak on campus.

FIRE’s report also found:

FIRE CEO Greg Lukianoff said,

“The situation for freedom of speech and academic freedom has been in trouble on campus since before FIRE was founded in 1999. That situation has gotten far worse in the last few years. Our new and improved rankings are intended to reward universities that protect and defend the freedom of speech, while empowering students and parents who care about free speech not to attend or support universities that don’t.”

Shockingly, or maybe not if you’ve been paying attention, some of America’s most renowned universities are the worst for recognizing and encouraging the constitutional principle of free speech. Columbia, Penn, and Georgetown weren’t alone at the bottom. Yale ranked 198. Others included Northwestern University at 197; Johns Hopkins, 193; Harvard, 170; Princeton, 169; and Cornell, 154.

America’s elitist universities, which produce many of its political leaders, medical professionals, and legal minds, are vehemently opposed to free expression and academic curiosity. Rather than being learning centers where young Americans are nurtured and pushed to grow and think for themselves, today’s universities are brainwashing students, forcing them to espouse intolerant, Marxist doctrine, and whipping them into a hateful frenzy towards fellow students and Americans who hold a non-conforming view.

The current climate of speech in America’s colleges is hindering the growth of our youth. As FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens noted, “That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture. How can students develop their distinct voices and ideas in college if they’re too afraid to engage with each other?”

If universities truly cared about their students, they would stop imposing anti-American, illiberal views on students and rededicate themselves to the principles of academic freedom by challenging students to research, debate, develop, and politely defend their differing points of view.

The Golden Rule, given to us by Jesus in Matthew 7:12 (ESV), says,

“‘So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

Americans must learn that we have to allow others to share their views. If we expect to be allowed to speak, then others should also be able to speak. That doesn’t mean we can’t debate those views, but it does mean that we cannot silence others. A society in which only some have the right to speak is not a tolerant society nor is it a free one. In fact, it is quite the opposite.


Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.