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2021 College Campus Free Speech Rankings Released, Here’s Where Your School Ranks

  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), College Pulse, and RealClearEducation released their 2021 student assessment of ...

 The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), College Pulse, and RealClearEducation released their 2021 student assessment of free speech on major American college campuses this week, which found that the percentage of students who support shutting down speakers they don’t like has increased over the last year.

The report surveyed students from 159 colleges, more than triple the number from the first annual report published in 2020, about their experiences with free speech issues on campus.

Key findings from the report included:

  • “More than 80% of students report self-censoring their viewpoints at their colleges at least some of the time, with 21% saying they censor themselves often.”
  • “More than 50% of students identify racial inequality as a difficult topic to discuss on their campuses.”
  • “Almost one in four (23%) say it is acceptable to use violence to stop a campus speech, sharply up 5 percentage points from last year’s 18%.”
  • “Two-thirds of students (66%) say it is acceptable to shout down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus, up 4 percentage points from last year.”
  • “Generally, students showed much greater intolerance and much less support for allowing speakers with conservative messages on campus. Speakers with liberal messages generally had much more support for their expression, but full tolerance remained low.”
  • “With regard to disrupting a speaker on campus, non-binary students were significantly more likely to find disruption acceptable. … Non-binary students also significantly more often (23%) said it was acceptable to use violence to stop a campus speech compared to their peers (7% of males and 6% of females).”

The College Free Speech Rankings are based on a composite score of the following seven factors: Openness, Tolerance for Conservative Speakers, Tolerance for Liberal Speakers, Administrative Support for Free Speech, Comfort Expressing Ideas, Disruptive Conduct, and FIRE’s Speech Code Rating.

“To create an ‘Overall Score’ for each college, the seven sub-component scores are added for a maximum possible score of 100 points,” the report said. “A college’s Overall Score is the average score of the students surveyed at that college. Higher scores indicate stronger environments on campus for free speech and expression.”

The 159 schools ranked as follows:

  1. Claremont McKenna College 72.2
  2. University of Chicago 70.43
  3. University of New Hampshire 67.16
  4. Emory University 67.14
  5. Florida State University 66.95
  6. Purdue University 66.57
  7. University of Maryland 66.44
  8. University of California, Los Angeles 66.43
  9. University of Arizona 66.41
  10. College of William and Mary 65.88
  11. University of Mississippi 65.87
  12. George Mason University 65.42
  13. Oregon State University 65.38
  14. Kansas State University 65.16
  15. Arizona State University 65.09
  16. Mississippi State University 65.06
  17. University of Colorado 65.05
  18. Duke University 65.05
  19. University of Florida 64.82
  20. Auburn University 64.55
  21. University of Tennessee 64.52
  22. University of Virginia 64.47
  23. University of North Carolina 64.46
  24. North Carolina State University 64.39
  25. Texas A&M University 63.67
  26. Columbia University 63.04
  27. Bowdoin College 62.73
  28. Bard College 62.58
  29. Wesleyan University 62.15
  30. Georgia State University 62.05
  31. New Mexico State University 61.56
  32. George Washington University 61.44
  33. Yale University 61.42
  34. California State University, Los Angeles 61.33
  35. DePaul University 61.20
  36. Colorado College 61.18
  37. Oberlin College 61.13
  38. Syracuse University 61.13
  39. Rowan University 60.93
  40. Vassar College 60.85
  41. Wellesley College 60.74
  42. Temple University 60.72
  43. University of Southern California 60.64
  44. Florida International University 60.58
  45. University of California, Riverside 60.51
  46. Washington University in St. Louis 60.41
  47. University of California, Santa Cruz 60.34
  48. Brandeis University 60.30
  49. Carnegie Mellon University 60.24
  50. Stanford University 60.24
  51. University of Idaho 60.20
  52. Brown University 60.19
  53. University of Washington 60.14
  54. University of Minnesota 60.11
  55. Smith College 60.09
  56. University of Hawaii 60.07
  57. University at Buffalo 59.99
  58. Vanderbilt University 59.99
  59. University of Oregon 59.88
  60. University of Delaware 59.88
  61. Colorado School of Mines 59.85
  62. University of Iowa 59.84
  63. Dartmouth College 59.81
  64. Trinity College 59.80
  65. University of Cincinnati 59.77
  66. University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa 59.74
  67. University of Central Florida 59.73
  68. New York University 59.73
  69. Michigan State University 59.68
  70. Pennsylvania State University 59.63
  71. Williams College 59.62
  72. Ohio University 59.62
  73. University of California, Davis 59.57
  74. Washington State University 59.57
  75. Indiana University 59.57
  76. Massachusetts Institute of Technology 59.54
  77. Colorado State University 59.50
  78. Amherst College 59.47
  79. Georgia Institute of Technology 59.47
  80. University of California, Santa Barbara 59.42
  81. University of Pittsburgh 59.42
  82. Cornell University 59.40
  83. University of California, Berkeley 59.37
  84. Oklahoma State University 59.27
  85. Kent State University 59.20
  86. University of Georgia 59.12
  87. University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign 59.11
  88. Southern Methodist University 59.05
  89. Texas Tech University 59.04
  90. University of Arkansas 59.04
  91. Hamilton College 59.03
  92. University of Nebraska 59.02
  93. University of Missouri 58.98
  94. University of Maine 58.96
  95. University of Kansas 58.94
  96. University of Kentucky 58.93
  97. Ohio State University 58.90
  98. Rutgers University 58.72
  99. University of Utah 58.71
  100. University of South Carolina 58.67
  101. University of Massachusetts 58.66
  102. University of Texas, Austin 58.65
  103. University of Connecticut 58.58
  104. University of Wisconsin 58.56
  105. Iowa State University 58.55
  106. University of New Mexico 58.51
  107. Virginia Polytechnic Institute 58.36
  108. Binghamton University 58.36
  109. University of Oklahoma 58.33
  110. Haverford College 58.18
  111. West Virginia University 58.09
  112. Miami University 58.02
  113. University of Pennsylvania 58.01
  114. University of Nevada, Re 57.99
  115. University of Michigan 57.98
  116. Howard University 57.75
  117. Bucknell University 57.75
  118. University of Alabama, Birmingham 57.73
  119. University of Vermont 57.51
  120. Stony Brook University 57.41
  121. San Diego State University 57.26
  122. University of Rhode Island 57.11
  123. Clemson University 56.82
  124. University of Texas, Dallas 56.49
  125. University of Notre Dame 56.26
  126. Grinnell College 56.00
  127. Macalester College 55.63
  128. Northwestern University 55.53
  129. Harvard University 55.48
  130. Georgetown University 55.44
  131. University of Illinois, Chicago 55.16
  132. Barnard College 54.97
  133. Case Western Reserve University 54.78
  134. Princeton University 54.72
  135. Rice University 54.34
  136. Tufts University 54.00
  137. University of Wyoming 53.98
  138. Johns Hopkins University 53.85
  139. Middlebury College 53.80
  140. University of Miami 53.77
  141. Connecticut College 53.74
  142. Boston University 53.70
  143. California State University, Fresno 53.65
  144. Fordham University 53.62
  145. Colby College 53.54
  146. Utah State University 53.41
  147. Tulane University 53.39
  148. Bates College 53.06
  149. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 52.77
  150. Boston College 52.53
  151. Wake Forest University 52.34
  152. Louisiana State University 52.09
  153. Marquette University 51.61
  154. DePauw University 50.80

The report gave the following in-depth descriptions of the seven factors that it used to determine a school’s free speech score:

  • Openness: Students were asked which topics, if any, were difficult to have open conversations about on campus. Options included: Abortion, Affirmative action, China, Climate change, Coronavirus, Economic inequality, Gender inequality, George Floyd protests, Gun control, Immigration, the Israel/Palestinian conflict, Racial inequality, Sexual assault, Social media deplatforming, and Transgender issues. Students also could select an option stating that none of these issues were difficult to discuss. These options were reverse coded such that when students selected fewer issues as difficult to discuss, schools received a higher score. The highest possible Openness score is 15, which indicates a student response that no issues are challenging to discuss on campus.
  • Tolerance for Liberal Speakers: Students were asked how much they support or oppose allowing different speakers to speak on campus, even if they did not personally agree with the speaker’s message. Students evaluated eight speaker topics, which were balanced to be equally controversial among liberal or conservative students. Survey items for liberal speakers included: “Religious liberty is used as an excuse to discriminate against gays and lesbians,” “White people are collectively responsible for structural racism and use it to protect their privilege,” “Looting is a justifiable form of protest,” and “The police are racist and should be abolished.” Options ranged from “strongly support” to “strongly oppose” on a fourpoint scale. Options were coded such that more support for speakers received higher scores. The highest possible score for this component is 16 points.
  • Tolerance for Conservative Speakers: Similarly, students were asked how much they support or oppose allowing conservative speakers to speak on campus, including the items, “Black Lives Matter is a hate group,” “The lockdown orders issued in response to the coronavirus have infringed on our personal liberties,“ “Abortion should be completely illegal,” and “Transgender people have a mental disorder.” Options were coded such that more support for speakers received higher scores. The highest possible score for this component is 16 points.
  • Administrative Support for Free Speech: This component comprised scores on two items: “How clear is it to you that your college administration protects free speech on campus?” and “If a controversy over offensive speech were to occur on your campus, how likely is it that the administration would defend the speaker’s right to express their views?” Options ranged from “extremely likely” to “not at all likely” on a five-point scale, with higher scores representing greater perceived support for free speech and a maximum score of 10.
  • Comfort Expressing Ideas: This component comprised scores on six items. Five items asked students how comfortable or uncomfortable they would feel doing the following: “Publicly disagreeing with a professor about a controversial topic,” “Expressing disagreement with one of your professors about a controversial topic in a written assignment,” “Expressing your views on a controversial political topic during an in-class discussion,” “Expressing your views on a controversial political topic to other students during a discussion in a common campus space, such as a quad, dining hall, or lounge,” and ”Expressing an unpopular opinion to your fellow students on a social media account tied to your name.” Options ranged from “very comfortable” to “very uncomfortable” on a four-point scale, with higher scores representing greater comfort. The sixth item scored responses to the question, “On your campus, how often have you felt that you could not express your opinion on a subject because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond?” Options ranged from “never” to “very often” on a five-point scale, with less frequent indication of inhibition receiving a higher score. The scores across these six items were scaled to a maximum of 25 points.
  • Disruptive Conduct: Students were asked how acceptable or unacceptable different kinds of activities to protest a campus speaker were. These included: “Shouting down a speaker or trying to prevent them from speaking on campus,” “Blocking other students from attending a campus speech,” and “Using violence to stop a campus speech.” Options were scored on a four-point scale ranging from “always acceptable” to “never acceptable,” with less acceptance of disruptive conduct receiving higher scores. The highest possible score was 12.
  • FIRE Speech Code Rating: FIRE rates the written policies governing student speech at over 475 institutions of higher education in the United States. Three substantive “Spotlight” ratings are possible: Red, Yellow, or Green. A rating of Red indicates that the institution has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Colleges with this rating received a score of -6 points. Colleges with Yellow ratings have policies that restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression. This rating received a score of 0. The policies of an institution with a Green rating do not seriously threaten speech, although this rating does not indicate whether a college actively supports free expression. This rating received a score of 6. Finally, a fourth rating, Warning, is assigned to a private college or university when its policies clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech. Colleges with this rating were scored like Red schools and received a score of -6. Their scores are presented separately.

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