Harvard ranked worst college in the nation for free speech: Report

News & Politics

Harvard University was ranked as the worst college in the nation for free speech, according to a report released Wednesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression.

FIRE’s new report, “2024 College Free Speech Rankings: What Is the State of Free Speech on America’s College Campuses?” found that Harvard earned the lowest possible score — 0.00. It was the only college to receive an “Abysmal” speech climate rating.

According to FIRE, the college’s 0.00 rating was “generous.”

“Its actual score is -10.69, more than six standard deviations below the average and more than two standard deviations below the second-to-last school in the rankings and its Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania,” the report stated.

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FIRE’s director of polling and analytics, Sean Stevens, told the New York Post that he was “not totally surprised” by the results.

“We’ve done these rankings for years now, and Harvard is consistently near the bottom,” Stevens said. “I thought it would be pretty much impossible for a school to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions.”

In April, 100 Harvard professors and faculty members formed the Council on Academic Freedom to preserve free speech on campus. The coalition of academics called it a “crisis time” when “confidence in American higher education is sinking.” The University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, and Fordham University also ranked in the bottom five schools.

Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University received the highest speech climate ratings.

“Each of the top four schools earned a ‘Good’ speech climate rating, while Florida State earned an ‘Above Average’ rating,” the report stated.

“I’m not necessarily surprised that a technological school has a better speech climate, primarily for the reason that they don’t really talk as much about controversial topics,” Stevens told the Post. “They’re there to make things work as engineers.”

Last year, Columbia University ranked the lowest in the nation for free speech, receiving a score of 34.60 and a “Below Average” speech climate rating, while the University of Chicago earned the top spot with a score of 65.95 and an “Above Average” speech climate rating.

The nation’s schools were ranked based on survey responses from more than 55,000 students enrolled in four-year degree programs at 254 colleges and universities between January and June 2023.

“The topics of ‘abortion,’ ‘gender inequality,’ ‘gun control,’ ‘police misconduct,’ ‘racial inequality,’ ‘religion,’ ‘sexual assault,’ and ‘transgender rights’ were all identified by at least one-third of students at schools in the top five and at least one-third of students at schools in the bottom five as difficult to have an open and honest conversation about on campus,” FIRE’s report found.

Overall, abortion ranked as the most challenging topic to have “an open and honest conversation about” on campuses across the nation, according to 49% of survey students.

The survey asked students to rank how comfortable they are sharing their political views in various campus scenarios, including disagreeing with a professor during in-class discussions or written assignments. They were also asked whether they “self-censor” on campus and whether they believe the college’s administration would protect free speech on campus.

At the top five schools, 45% of students said it is “never acceptable” to stop a campus speech by shouting down the speaker, while only 27% of students at the bottom five schools agreed.

Of all the students surveyed, 44% said colleges “definitely should not allow” a speaker who believes transgender people have a mental disorder on campus. Additionally, 42% stated that speakers arguing Black Lives Matter is a hate group should not be allowed on campus.

“I’d say the state of free speech on campus is stagnant at best, and possibly a little worse than last year,” Stevens stated.

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