The 10 worst colleges for free speech: new ranking

At many universities free expression is on life support.

Free speech on America’s college campuses has certainly seen better days. At many colleges and universities, free expression is on life support, having the life squeezed out of it by illiberal campus cultures and censorious university rules.

Here are the 10 worst college campuses for free speech, according to a new ranking from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

(Note: the ranking 1-10 is purely for formatting purposes, FIRE did not necessarily designate some on the list as “worse” than others).

10. Hamline University

This Minnesota-based liberal arts college fired an art history professor for daring to… teach art history? That’s right: After an art history professor showed an important historical painting depicting the prophet Mohammed—which some Muslims find offensive—she was not re-hired and dubbed “Islamophobic.” (Even though she warned all students the painting would be shown and they did not need to be present if it was offensive to their religion). The university absurdly claimed, “respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

9. Pennsylvania State University

This public university earned FIRE’s condemnation because it canceled a controversial speaking event featuring right-wing speakers due to “security concerns,” effectively caving to a “heckler’s veto” rather than use its extensive resources to ensure the event could safely proceed.

8. Collin College

This college is known as the “epicenter of censorship” in Texas. It’s on this list because it fired professors who formed a union and criticized the institution’s handling of COVID-19. It lost in federal court after being sued by one of these professors. It also currently faces litigation for firing a professor who advocated for the removal of confederate-era statues.

7. Texas A&M

This college earned FIRE’s ire by repeatedly attempting to restrict or limit the freedom of student groups, from an LGBT association’s drag event to an independent campus newspaper to a freshman orientation group.

6. University of Pennsylvania

This Ivy-League university used to earn FIRE’s highest rating for free speech. Not any more.

Now, it’s in the hot seat from FIRE because it is pursuing disciplinary charges against a tenured professor, Amy Wax, over her controversial comments on race and immigration, which, while indeed inflammatory, are protected under academic freedom.

5. Emerson

This Massachusetts arts college is well known for its censoriousness. It has repeatedly taken anti-free-speech actions against Turning Point USA, a MAGA-style student organization, including investigating and suspending the group for sharing “China kinda sus” stickers. (This campaign was clearly targeted at China’s government, but the university unfairly framed it as racism).

It also blocked TPUSA from screening a documentary on, ironically enough, free speech, and prohibited it from spreading materials on campus.

4. Emporia State

This public Kansas university is under FIRE’s scrutiny for its move to effectively end tenure and fire more than 30 faculty members, including one who publicly criticized the university. So much for academic freedom, eh?

3. Tennessee Tech

This public research university targeted an LGBT student group because the president was offended by a drag show it hosted in August of 2022. Newsflash to this university’s administrators: There’s no exception to the First Amendment just because you really don’t like something someone said.

2. University of Oregon

The University of Oregon is on the list because it punishes prospective faculty in job consideration if they do not align with a heavily-ideological viewpoint the university encourages via its “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” statements. For example, a prospective professor who believes “it’s better not to have outreach or affinity groups aimed at underrepresented individuals because it keeps them separate from everyone else, or will make them feel less valued” would be penalized in the job search.

Needless to say, this kind of ideological litmus test runs afoul of free expression and academic freedom principles.

1. Loyola University, New Orleans

This university is on the list because of its horrific treatment of Professor Walter Block, an anarcho-capitalist economics professor. It has subjected him to mandatory diversity training due to his WrongThink and even threatened him with termination for his speech.

Bonus: Georgetown University

The famed D.C. university has earned FIRE’s “Lifetime Censorship Award” after a dismaying saga where it suspended incoming faculty member Ilya Shapiro for a poorly-phrased tweet about Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson that, while inartfully worded, was clearly within the bounds of academic freedom.

It also has a sordid history of censoring pro-abortion and pro-Bernie Sanders movements on campus and having generic speech policies so chilling that it earns FIRE’s “red light” rating. Georgetown now joins just a handful of other colleges in receiving FIRE’s top dishonor, the Lifetime Censorship Award.

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Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo
Brad Polumbo is a libertarian-conservative journalist and co-founder of Based Politics. His work has been cited by top lawmakers such as Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz, Senator Pat Toomey, Congresswoman Nancy Mace, Congressman Thomas Massie, and former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, as well as by prominent media personalities such as Jordan Peterson, Sean Hannity, Dave Rubin, Ben Shapiro, and Mark Levin. Brad has also testified before the US Senate, appeared on Fox News and Fox Business, and written for publications such as USA Today, National Review, Newsweek, and the Daily Beast. He hosts the Breaking Boundaries podcast and has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.