FIRE’s worst colleges for free speech, and their Lifetime Censorship Award

FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, has named the ten worst American campuses for free speech over the last year. In addition, they’ve given a “Lifetime Censorship” award to a school with a persistent history of censorship over time. Click on the screenshot below if you want to see the distressing details.

First, FIRE notes that this list includes both public and private colleges. The former are bound by law to observe the First Amendment, while the private colleges on the list “explicitly promise to do so.” They add that “90 percent of schools still maintain codes that either clearly restrict or could too easily be used to restrict free speech.”  That’s appalling!

Here are the bad schools, and you can read about what they did to make the list on FIRE’s site. I am further appalled that Harvard, my Ph.D. alma mater, is on the list, but I’ve documented their suppression of dissent several times on this site (see some of those posts here). The list is in no special order, so the ones at the top or bottom aren’t necessarily the worst offenders.

On to the Hall of Shame:

  1. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY).
  2. Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
  3. Harvard University (Cambridge, MA).  I’ve written before (here, here, and here) about how Harvard punishes students who belong to single-sex off-campus groups (including women’s groups); this violates freedom of association. There are two other incidents of bad behavior as well. I’m not saddened to see the resignation of President Drew Faust, who pushed through the “no freedom of association” policy; her replacement will be the former President of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow.
  4. Los Angeles Community College District. Every campus is off limits to free speech except in restricted zones: one the size of three parking spaces!
  5. Fordham University (New York, NY). Fordham has denied recognition to Students for Justice in Palestine, and even sanctioned students who protested that decision. While I think SJP is largely anti-Semitic, it still deserved to be recognized and allowed to promote on-campus activities.
  6. Evergreen State College (Olympia, WA). If you’ve read here, you’ll know all about this odious and censorious school. Nobody should be sending their kids there.
  7. Albion College (Albion, MI)
  8. Northwestern University (Evanston IL). If you’ve read Laura Kipnis’s Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia on Campus, as I have, you’ll know how hamhanded Northwestern is when adjudicating sexual harassment cases and censoring those who write about them (or about sex in general). Kipnis herself was subject to a Title IX investigation for simply writing a book about Title IX investigations!
  9. The University of California at Berkeley. Milo Yiannopoulos, David Horowitz’s and Ben Shapiro’s proposed appearances caused threats that led to their talks’ cancellations. Berkeley promises to do better, but we’ll see
  10. Texas State University (San Marcos, TX). I’ve written before about a racist editorial in the school paper (an anti-white piece written by a Hispanic) that was not only withdrawn, but was followed by students calling for the editor’s resignation and all kinds of anti-free speech insanity. While the editorial was “hate speech” by most people’s definition, I defended the paper’s right to publish it.

Finally, the “Lifetime Censorship Award” went to Chicago’s own DePaul University, which FIRE indicts for “its decade-long rap sheet of censorship spanning the ideological spectrum.” (See some of my posts here.) The rap sheet is long and shameful.

As lagniappe, I invite you to inspect FIRE’s “Disinvitation Database“, which gives all reported cases of invited speakers being disinvited or de-platformed.  It goes from 2000 to the present, and if you read through it you’ll see that early on cases of censorship by the Right and Left were pretty much equally numerous, but in the last five years most cases of censorship have been by Leftists. The campus political climate can’t have changed that much over 18 years, and only the last year can be attributed to Trump. We on the Left can do better than this.

h/t: Cesar

38 Comments

  1. Jake Sevins
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I was having a beer with another professor recently and I mentioned how bad the Free Speech issue has gotten on campuses. His perception was that this is a very minor problem, limited to a few fringe cases, blown out of proportion by The Right.

    In fact, the Very Bad Wizards seem to have a similar view.

    I think the problem is far worse than many academics believe, and it’s demonstrably seeping into the workplace now.

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:59 am | Permalink

      Your professor friend is wrong; see the disinvitation database or read about the ten loser colleges above, many of which are excellent colleges (for learning).

    • Posted February 17, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      This is a really common reaction. Most people I speak to about free speech issues on campus claim that they are “isolated cases” that do not represent any broad trends in society. It’s hard to argue against this. How many isolated cases would constitute evidence of a trend?

    • Posted February 17, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

      This is a really common reaction. Most people I speak to about free speech issues on campus claim that they are “isolated cases” that do not represent any broad trends in society. It’s hard to argue against this. How many isolated cases would constitute evidence of a trend?

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:24 am | Permalink

    Wow, I think this kind of yeoman’s work earns FIRE a Crazy World of Arthur Brown moment.

    • ratabago
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      Great Horny Toads!

      I thought I was the only weirdo left who remembered Arthur Brown. ‘Though I was only a little sprogglet when this was released. I didn’t come across his stuff until about 8 or 9 years later.

  3. Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    This would make an interesting topic for one of our Humanist meetings!

  4. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I’ve been highly critical of Harvard’s policy prohibiting students’ off-campus membership in single-sex organizations. I must confess, nevertheless, that any argument expressly premised on the “freedom of association” leaves me cold, inasmuch as “freedom of association” were the code words used to uphold Jim Crow, and served as the basis for the constitutional challenge mounted unsuccessfully against the statute that jettisoned it, the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

    The First Amendment contains no express “freedom of association,” though some courts have construed it to imply such a right. Funny, though, how such a non-textual right has always been a favorite of the same rightwingers who abjure the equally non-textual “right to privacy” that undergirds reproductive freedom.

    • BJ
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

      “Funny, though, how such a non-textual right has always been a favorite of the same rightwingers who abjure the equally non-textual ‘right to privacy’ that undergirds reproductive freedom.”

      I am entirely in favor of abortion being legal, but, on logical grounds, I don’t think this is a fair statement. If there is a right to freedom of association, it’s clear what that means tangibly; the only question, like free speech, is what test to apply to analyze whether that freedom is encroached upon. Applying a right to privacy to abortion is entirely different and depends on the view of the analyzer entirely. If a person does not regard a fetus as a separate entity, then it’s easy to argue for a right to privacy, but if one regards a fetus as a separate person with attendant rights (especially a right to life), then the situation is far more complicated than you propose it to be.

      Regarding freedom of association applying to Jim Crow: I would say there’s a big difference between that situation and the one to which you’re comparing it. Jim Crow was a set of laws restricting specific people, while today, particularly in the case of Harvard’s futzing, freedom of association frees people from restrictions.

      • Rita
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

        Off-topic, but – I have a problem with the idea that one is free to “regard” the fetus as a separate being, etc., without having any factual basis for that opinion, and then to force that unfounded opinion upon others.

        • Posted February 13, 2018 at 4:00 pm | Permalink

          There can be a factual basis, particularly for later stages of prenatal development. I always feel uneasy when someone, to justify the right to abortion, describes a 2nd-trimester fetus as a “lump of cells”.

        • BJ
          Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

          As mayamarkov says, I don’t think that is at all a fair reading of the situation. Most people agree that at least late-stage abortions, where the fetus could have easily survived if it had been delivered when the abortion occurred, it very different from aborting a lump of cells. Some people believe that even early-stage fetuses are people with rights. I don’t agree with them, but, if that is their honest belief, keeping others from having abortions — forcing that assertion on others — is the same as forcing people not to murder one another. But I don’t think one can say that, at least regarding later-term abortions, that the idea of the fetus being a fully-formed being is unfounded. There are plenty of reasons to view that as a valid position, from ability to survive like at full term, to brain activity, to various other tests that people might apply.

          I’m not saying I agree with many people who want to stop others from getting abortions (at least up to a point of about five to six months), but I do understand where those who oppose me are coming from, and it’s important to try and see things from others’ perspectives.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

            Do you extend the same deference to SJWs who sincerely believe that hate speech materially harms the historically disadvantaged? After all, the SJWs are merely seeking to control what you say or write, not how you use your uterus or your decision whether to procreate.

            I’m at a loss to understand how the sincerity of anyone’s metaphysical beliefs can trump another citizen’s constitutional rights.

            • BJ
              Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

              “I’m at a loss to understand how the sincerity of anyone’s metaphysical beliefs can trump another citizen’s constitutional rights.”

              That’s exactly the difference: I don’t see this as a metaphysical belief. I think the question of where life begins is a legitimate one, even if I don’t agree with people on the other side.

              Deference isn’t the right word for what I’m extending, it’s “charity,” intellectually. I extend the same intellectual charity to SJWs who believe certain types of speech harm the historically disadvantaged because there are ways in which that is possible and is a legitimate discussion — again, not a metaphysical belief, but a difference of opinion regarding what constitutes “harm,” whether that “harm” actually materializes (and/or to the extent claimed), and whether or not the harm of censorship by law outweighs the other harms being claimed.

              I think you assumed that I have certain views and that I’m arguing from certain perspectives that I never claimed, and it’s coloring your interpretation of what I’m saying. We don’t talk about abortion nearly as much here as censorship, but I will say that I have more empathy for those who oppose abortion on the grounds I’ve laid out because they believe it’s literal murder of a human being, rather than a more intangible harm (like that claimed by the SJWs you mentioned in that particular study) that is correctly or incorrectly gleaned from reams of valid or invalid studies, philosophies, etc. Still, I do empathize with the latter group and, if they haven’t said things in the past that suggest such harm isn’t really what they’re worried about, I extend them the same charity in assuming their motives are pure. I do the same analysis when I see a preacher railing against killing unborn lives, but then look into his past and find out it’s actually that he’s a jackass who believes god should control a woman’s body.

            • BJ
              Posted February 13, 2018 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

              In fact, I’m confused as to why you call the idea that a fetus at earlier stages being considered an unborn life to be a “metaphysical” belief. Do you consider the claim that a fetus at the point of viability is an unborn child to be a metaphysical belief? If not, what is the exact difference that makes the former metaphysical and the latter an opinion about the physical realm? If yes, why is the latter a metaphysical belief as well?

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

        I’m not aware of “ease of application” being a standard for determining whether rights are included in the Constitution. The meaning of “due process” and “equal protection” and a host of other constitutional provisions is hardly self-evident either. And there are, of course, numerous other non-textual, implied rights that the courts have interpreted the Constitution to include, such as the right to travel and the right to marry. I have no problem with any of them, but then — unlike those who embrace the right to association, while railing against the right to privacy — I don’t pretend to be a constitutional “strict constructionist.”

        Just so we’re clear here, are you saying that it’s nice that women can get abortions and all, but that the right to reproductive freedom — which comprises not only abortion, but access to birth-control devices and information, see Griswold v. Connecticut — has no foundation in the U.S. Constitution?

        • BJ
          Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

          “Just so we’re clear here, are you saying that it’s nice that women can get abortions and all, but that the right to reproductive freedom — which comprises not only abortion, but access to birth-control devices and information, see Griswold v. Connecticut — has no foundation in the U.S. Constitution?”

          I’m saying that whether or not it does is, I think, often a matter of philosophy that doesn’t necessarily relate to the law. I don’t think it has anything to do with what you wrote in the first or second paragraph. Whether or not one would agree with the current stance on abortion will usually be determined by whether or not they believe a fetus is a separate entity with its own rights, or if it’s part of the mother’s body and therefore the mother’s decision to do as she wishes with it, as a matter of privacy and bodily autonomy.

          With something like free speech, we all understand that the concept is to make speech and thought as free as possible; the only questions are the limitations we place on it and the tests we apply to determine if those limitations have been crossed.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 13, 2018 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

            “… whether or not it does is, I think, often a matter of philosophy that doesn’t necessarily relate to the law.

            It has everything to do with the law. If reproductive rights are not protected by the US Constitution, then 50%+1 of any legislative body in the land can completely outlaw women from obtaining abortions (or from obtaining birth control) — and, 50%+1 of any legislative body in the land could just as easily compel women to have abortions (something the anti-abortion crowd never seems to think about when they’re carping against the constitutional right to privacy).

    • Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      “The First Amendment contains no express “freedom of association,” though some courts have construed it to imply such a right. ”

      I thought the courts interpreted the Fourteenth Amendment to contain the right, no? Wasn’t that the gist of NAACP vs Alabama (I think it was late 50s)?

      Scarping the bottom of the memory barrel here….

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

        On their face, the rights guaranteed in the Constitution’s first 10 amendments (our “Bill of Rights”) apply only as against the federal government (“Congress shall make no law …”). To the extent those rights have been interpreted to apply against the states, it is because the courts have construed them to have been “incorporated” into the 14th Amendment’s due process clause.

        The cases concerning freedom of association over the last half century have been decided expressly on First Amendment grounds. See, e.g., Boy Scouts of America v. Dale and Roberts v. United States Jaycees.

        • Randall Schenck
          Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

          Shouldn’t you be getting paid for some of this…

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

            Just lemme know where to send the bill, buddy. 🙂

        • Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

          Thanks, Ken.

          Note that in the Wikipedia links under the See Also heading “Freedom of Association” I found <a href = "https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NAACP_v._Alabama&quot; this , which is the case I sort of remembered. If you follow that link, that case was decided on 14th amendment grounds, though as you mentioned they focused on due process.

  5. glen1davidson
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    I hope they have enough sense of shame left for this to do some good.

    Give some ideas you’ve never considered a test run, or at least find good reasons (should they exist) not to do so.

    Glen Davidson

  6. BJ
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, according to FIRE’s own study of disinvitations between 2000 and 2014 (and we know the situation has worsened since then), Harvard was the worst offender of all. Columbia was second. And let’s remember that such lists don’t include other nasty incidents, like the horrid abuse toward the Christakises or Weinsteins. These studies look only at disinvitations and deplatofrming incidents.

    https://www.thefire.org/disinvitation-season-report-2014/

  7. Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    “We on the Left can do better than this.”

    Sadly, on the whole, this does not appear to be true.

  8. Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Wow.

    Here in Ontario, Canada, we’ve just had a minor victory over academic nonsense- a proposal to teach a program in homeopathy at a community college has been canned. I for one still wonder how it got even to the planning stage – curricula and such were set.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

      Are they eliminating it entirely, or just diluting the content?

  9. Curtis
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I was surprised to see RPI number 1 considering it is an engineering school and I did not expect to find SJWs there.

    In looking at FIRE website, it appears their concerns are about the administration not the students. One more school to cross of my kids’ college lists.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      As mentioned in the OP, the numbering of the schools did not imply an order of badness.

  10. colnago80
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    There is no question that the actions of students on many College campuses relative to free speech issues are unacceptable. However, I don’t think that the folks at FIRE are coming to this issue with clean hands. In particular, FIRE accepts gelt from the Templeton Foundation. If we are going to criticize individuals who accept Templeton gelt, then we are obliged to also criticize FIRE for doing the same thing.

    https://www.thefire.org/fire-receives-john-templeton-foundation-grant-announces-nine-job-openings/

    • Liz
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      Very slow face palm.

    • rickflick
      Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      That’s interesting. If Templeton has ideas about promoting spirituality by this funding I can’t imagine how that would work. There is nothing that I see in FIRE’s agenda that has anything to do with promoting woo. It’s possible I suppose Templeton thinks that once campuses are fully supportive of free speech, they can then follow up by paying for spiritual speakers to invade and conquer. That’s a rather indirect approach.

      • Posted February 13, 2018 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

        I suspect that Templeton is interested because of censorship and/or disinvitation of religious speech and speakers. This is a legitimate concern – just look at the Ken Ham kerfluffle that’s going on in OK. I don’t think FIRE should be worried about getting entangled with Templeton; the religious funding group has a real free speech concern here.

      • BJ
        Posted February 13, 2018 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

        Indeed, FIRE has opposed many conservative bullies trying to shut down campus speech. They have never shown themselves to be biased in any manner, except toward upholding the concepts of free speech, thought, and academics.

  11. Dale Pickard
    Posted February 13, 2018 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    I agree that that they should have let him speak his nonsense – certainly over giving him the pulpit that he’s after otherwise,just as Jerry said.
    I can only imagine the poor secular folks in deep Christian OK who likely see this as a needed expression of resistance. I offer them some empathy and credit for taking their position with respect to the teaching of creationism as science at public university. I imagine that the local christian environment has driven them somewhat mad – so to speak.


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