What are America’s worst colleges for free speech?

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has awarded 10 American colleges its anti-kudos for being the worst colleges for free speech in the last year. You can read about them at the link below (click on screenshot); I’ll just give the list and say a few words about why each college was chosen. 

There’s no order to the list, so consider them all bad. They include both public and private colleges, with public ones forced to adhere by law to the First Amendment, while the private ones don’t have to. However, the implication is that the private universities on this list have “explicitly promised” to respect free speech by faculty and students (see here).

The miscreant schools:

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York). Private university. On the list because campus cops told students wearing buttons critical of the university administration to get lost because of “eminent domain”. The college also has a long history of censoring student speech and preventing students from demonstrating.

Syracuse University (Syracuse, New York). Private university. The school suspended students in an engineering fraternity for “a private satirical skit roasting their fellow members.”  It has done similar expulsions before as well as having a restrictive speech code. Yet the University promises to uphold First Amendment standards.

Georgetown University Qatar(Doha Quatar). Branch of American private university. Canceled a debate on whether God might be a woman because it might “risk the safety and security of our community.” Qatar has a blasphemy law, which might explain (but doesn’t excuse) the censorship.

University of Wisconsin System. (Madison, Wisconsin). Public university. The Chancellor of the La Crosse campus, Joe Gow, invited a former porn star, Nina Hartley, to campus for Free Speech week. Hartley is now a sex educator and nurse, and her talk was about the adult film industry. For that, Gow received a letter of reprimand from Ray Cross, President of the entire UW system. He also noted that his bad judgment might affect Gow’s salary in the future. Apparently the talk was a big success for the audience, but not for Gow, who now has a black mark in his personnel file.

Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia). I was surprised at this because while LU is a private school, it’s also deeply Christian (Jerry Falwell is the founder), and does it really promise free speech? Well, apparently that was indeed promised by its president, Jerry Falwell, Jr., in 2016. Nevertheless, the university has repeatedly tried to censor the student newspaper, the Liberty Champion. Topics that were cut include criticism of Donald Trump for his pussy-grabbing statement and an article about unmarried pregnant students. The school eliminated the job of editor-in-chief and the Dean of the School of Communication warned the paper that their job is not to do journalism, but to burnish the reputation of the school.

Alabama A&M University (Huntsville, Alabama). A public and historically black school. According to FIRE, this school takes the prize for having the most policies (five) that substantially restrict protected speech. In a public university!  These include policies that construe these as punishable instances of harassment: ““negative stereotyping,” “[i]nsulting … comments or gestures,” and comments that are merely “related to an individual’s age, race, gender, color, religion, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation.” The school also prohibits the sending of “annoying” or “offensive” email messages.

University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas). Public school. The University removed an outdoor flag art display containing a defaced American flag (see it here or below). The outdoor display was moved indoors. The school also maintains a censorious social media policy (see here, pp. 98-99).

Banned speech (the flag pictured on the FIRE link, but clearly not Lawrence, Kansas!):

University of North Alabama (Florence, Alabama). Public school. This school fell afoul of FIRE for two things. The University retaliated against the student newspaper for simply inquiring why a university vice-president had resigned suddenly and why a professor was banned from campus—normal journalistic inquiries. The school also has a policy whereby faculty and staff must “have their interactions with media ‘vetted’ by the administration.” That is an outrageous violation of both free speech and academic freedom.

Plymouth State University(Plymouth, New Hampshire). Public University. The school fired one professor and disciplined another for simply writing letters of support for a former student who was being sentenced for sexual assault. Again, this is unconscionable. Letters of support after conviction are written for many criminals and many crimes, and should not constitute black marks against faculty.

Dixie State University (St. George, Utah). Public university. the school fired two professors, one of them tenured, for “discussing a colleague’s tenure bid.” While we’re not supposed to gossip about this stuff, it does happen all the time, but in this casewas deemed  “’professional incompetence, serious misconduct or unethical behavior’ and ‘serious violation’ of university rules and regulations.” (There were rumors that this draconian punishment came because the school didn’t like the professors for other reasons.)

Dixie State then offered one professor reinstatement if he agreed to give up all his right to free speech and academic freedom. The school is also squabbling with the student newspaper, as the paper tried to force the university to abide by state law making the school’s records open with regard to faculty senate and student government meetings. Finally, the school has banned fraternities and sororities from using the Greek alphabet on the presumption that this would lead Dixie State to get a reputation as a “party school.” That’s not only dumb, but laughable.

I’m glad the University of Chicago isn’t on the list, though I’m not sure that it might be some day. When the students here are old enough to run universities, the situation may change! I wouldn’t, for example, want to be at a school whose free-speech policy was determined by the editors of the student newspaper, the Chicago Maroon, as the paper cannot bring itself to take a stand in favor of free  speech, and is getting “woker” and more censorious all the time. (And it’s a newspaper, for crying out loud!)

 

36 Comments

  1. Posted February 12, 2019 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    The flag displayed for the Kansas entry is not flying over Lawrence. Is it Chicago?

    • Posted February 12, 2019 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I noticed that. They might have placed the flag image against another city or something. I have no idea, but I will change the caption.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

        It’s a 2017 photo by Guillaume Ziccarelli of a flagpole atop Creative Time’s headquarters at 59 East 4th Street, NYC, NY. SOURCE

        Pledges of Allegiance is a serialized commission of sixteen flags, each created by an acclaimed artist. “We realized we needed a space to resist that was defined not in opposition to a symbol, but in support of one, and so we created a permanent space. The flag seemed an ideal form to build that space around both practically and symbolically,” says Creative Time Artistic Director Nato Thompson

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The excuses are galling. Imagine the authorities saying “such and such a discussion is canceled because our students can not control themselves, are prone to conduct themselves in an uncivilized manner, and can produce dangerous and unsafe conditions when faced with ideas different from their own.”

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Sub

  3. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute … campus cops told students wearing buttons critical of the university administration to get lost because of “eminent domain”.

    Huh? What did the campus fuzz do, appropriate the earth below the students’ feet?

    Heck with the First Amendment and free speech; these kids shoulda sued their U for “just compensation” under the “Takings” clause of the Fifth Amendment, 🙂

    • BJ
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Oh, it must have been far more complicated than that! First, the students must have purchased the land they were standing on. Then, the cops must have been appointed to the government at some point before they showed up. Then, someone must have done an analysis to figure out the fair market value of the pile of dirt/pavement where the students were standing. Then, they must have given the students fair market value for the pile of dirt on which they were standing.

      A lot of stuff went down during the fuzz’s walk between the campus police building and the students’ location! Points for government efficiency. That’s an awfully short amount of time to get all that done.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted February 12, 2019 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

        The students may have had an incorporeal hereditament interest in the land beneath their feet. I no longer know what that means — and probably never did — but I liked the musical sound of it, so it’s the only term I remember from first-year Property Law class. 🙂

        • BJ
          Posted February 12, 2019 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

          Wasn’t that in a Dylan song?

          I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it

          I saw a highway for which the baby had incorporeal hereditament

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted February 12, 2019 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

            There’s a whole lotta obscure lines in “Hard Rain,” BJ, but I ain’t a hundred percent on that last one being among ’em, though I wouldn’t put it past ol’ Bob to have slipped it in somewhere along the line.

  4. DW
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    > Georgetown University Qatar

    I have trouble arguing against this, because Qatar. Debating religion in Qatar can get you killed or sold into slavery. It’s not like the Irish blasphemy law where you’ll end up with a fine or short jail sentence after an open trial. (which is bad enough) The Arabian peninsula is a nightmare.

    I don’t think the issue is “Free Speech” as much as “WTF is Georgetown getting in bed with Qatar for?”

    • darrelle
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Yep. More or less my thoughts too on that one.

    • Christopher
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 6:16 pm | Permalink

      Why is Georgetown getting into bed with Qatar? Well, i imagine it’s for all the usual reasons, or to quote Lonestar “We’re not jus doing it for money, we’re doing it for a shitload of money!”

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted February 12, 2019 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

        The Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development has deep pockets & is responsible for “Education City” where about a dozen foreign universities [six? American] have set up branch campuses. And as you say it is all about the money.

        In Qatar there are no freedoms – all educational courses, students societies etc are vetted & monitored.

    • Posted February 13, 2019 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      CMU (one of my alma maters) has a Qatar campus too. I suspect there it is the engineering and management connection.

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    University of Wisconsin … invited a former porn star, Nina Hartley, to campus for Free Speech week. [H]er talk was about the adult film industry. For that, Gow received a letter of reprimand …

    Jeez, bluenoses in Badger-land. Do they put those black bars over the naughty bits in the anatomy book?

    Who’s the dean there, Mrs. Grundy?

  6. Ken Kukec
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Dixie State then offered one professor reinstatement if he agreed to give up all his right to free speech and academic freedom.

    Were they gonna cut out his tongue, like Lavinia in Titus Andronicus?

    • Lurker111
      Posted February 13, 2019 at 7:11 am | Permalink

      And:

      ‘Finally, the school has banned fraternities and sororities from using the Greek alphabet on the presumption that this would lead Dixie State to get a reputation as a “party school.” That’s not only dumb, but laughable.’

      So let’s use the Hebrew alphabet! 🙂
      Or maybe the Cyrillic alphabet?
      Or maybe the Arabic alphabet!

  7. Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    I laughed at the blurb about Liberty University and the ‘purpose’ of the school newspaper. Reminds me of Samuel Wilberfore debating Darwin’s Bulldog when Wilberforce explained that the scientists job is to agree with the church.

    FWIW, my wife is doing an online Masters at LU in school counseling. Their online program serves a mind boggling, at least to me, 85,000 students. That’s a whole lotta something.

    • Posted February 12, 2019 at 10:19 pm | Permalink

      Shame there’s no transcript of the debate. Would’ve loved to read it.

      -Ryan

    • Posted February 13, 2019 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

      Amazing that a *professor of communications* would take that attitude, too. (Assuming that he is a journalist, anyway.)

  8. BJ
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Amazing how many public schools are on this list. The next President (I don’t expect the current one to do anything, although, perhaps DeVos might? Possibly? One can dream…) needs to use the DOE and DOJ to ensure that the First Amendment is respected in all public places. The fact that so many public colleges are blatantly violating the Constitution without legal repercussions is unconscionable.

    “Georgetown University Qatar(Doha Quatar). Branch of American private university. Canceled a debate on whether God might be a woman because it might ‘risk the safety and security of our community.’ Qatar has a blasphemy law, which might explain (but doesn’t excuse) the censorship.”

    I think this one should be excused. If an organization is located on foreign soil, it must follow the laws of that country. The First Amendment doesn’t apply in Qatar and blasphemy laws do. Furthermore, I understand why the college felt the debate might risk the security of those involved, especially those who spoke at and organized the debate. Unless Qatar’s blasphemy laws are written in such a way that they allow such a debate as this, I don’t take much issue with the school’s decision in this case.

    • rustybrown
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

      “The next President…needs to use the DOE and DOJ to ensure that the First Amendment is respected in all public places.”

      Who do you think is more likely to do that after the next election, Trump or one of the Dem front runners? Sincere question.

      • BJ
        Posted February 12, 2019 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

        All I can say is that I think a Democratic President might do it if it’s a centrist one, but if it’s somebody like Warren, Harris, et al, I can’t imagine them bothering. After all, this tends to affect conservative speech more than progressive speech and, further, why would you want to take power away from an institution (the university system) in which you have significantly more influence/power than your opponents?

        I could see a Republican other than Trump doing it. Although I wouldn’t even say “Trump.” I doubt he was the one who told DeVos to rescind the “Dear colleague” letter. I’m sure she did that on her own. I doubt Trump does much of anything besides watch TV and tweet.

        • rustybrown
          Posted February 12, 2019 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

          Trump is much more likely to defend the First Amendment in the way you describe than any of the current crop of Dems.

          “I doubt he was the one who told DeVos to rescind the “Dear colleague” letter. I’m sure she did that on her own.”

          You’re sure.

          He interviewed her. He appointed her to fulfill his agenda. I find it disingenuous to separate a President from the actions of his administration when convenient to your biases.

          • BJ
            Posted February 12, 2019 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

            It’s not about my biases. By all accounts — including those from people who have worked in his administration — he does very little. The fact that he chose her doesn’t mean he directed her to rescind “Dear colleague,” nor even that the idea came up. I mean, what was his agenda? Are you saying rescinding “Dear colleague” was part of his agenda, and that was one of the reasons he picked her? Many of the people he’s picked for his administration are explicitly at odds with his stated agenda, like “draining the swamp” and non-interventionism. I don’t think he even had much to do with picking his appointees because my impression of the man (not my bias against him), based on the information I have available to me, is that he doesn’t know much, do much, or think about a coherent agenda much.

            And I can’t think Trump is “likely” to do anything because I don’t think he has a coherent policy on something like free speech, nor on many other issues.

            • rustybrown
              Posted February 12, 2019 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

              Frankly, I think your biases are showing all over you response. There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just what I observe. I think your descriptions of Trump are the same hyperbolic projections I’ve commonly see plastered all over the mainstream media for the past couple years.

              To me, the projection of a man who doesn’t do much of anything but watch TV, has no coherent policy and seemingly no interest or inclination to even think about forming a coherent agenda seems fundamentally at odds with the popular notion of Trump the totalitarian set on destroying democracy for Putin’s benefit while hurling the globe towards perpetual darkness.

              • BJ
                Posted February 12, 2019 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

                “To me, the projection of a man who doesn’t do much of anything but watch TV, has no coherent policy and seemingly no interest or inclination to even think about forming a coherent agenda seems fundamentally at odds with the popular notion of Trump the totalitarian set on destroying democracy for Putin’s benefit while hurling the globe towards perpetual darkness.”

                And how does that in any way relate to what I said? I’ve never portrayed him that way. You seem to have an idea in your head that I’m a certain type of person, and you’re confused by the fact that I’m not conforming to that stereotype. I have, in fact, argued several times in this site’s comments sections that the idea of Trump taking orders from Putin has no basis in known fact, and I’ve also argued against people stating that he directly colluded with Putin/the Russian government as if it is an established fact. I don’t consider myself Left, Right, center, or anything else. I am in the apparently grey area where I analyze all the information I have at hand, combine that with my priors (and update them when needed), and make a decision on what is most likely to be true. If my priors need to be updated, you’ll have to provide some actual information, rather than simple statements that I’m being biased.

                I don’t see how your first paragraph relates to anything I said either. You haven’t refuted anything I said; you’ve merely said it’s biased. You haven’t said how. You haven’t responded to my claims of fact that people who have worked in his own administration have described him as I have. You haven’t responded to the fact that he has actively taken actions directly at odds with his supposed agenda. You haven’t responded to the fact that he often seems to have no coherent agenda and regularly changes his mind, seemingly on a whim.

                I’ve provided reasoning and information for my analysis, but you haven’t offered anything but the idea that it’s biased (with no supporting basis for that claim) and that it doesn’t comport with a stereotype of the average Left-winger. If you want to try and refute what I’ve said, I’m open to reading that, but you haven’t done so yet.

                And I would add the following: if one person is making claims and backing them with analysis and known information, and the other person is simply making absolute statements, it is the latter’s claims that seem biased.

              • rustybrown
                Posted February 13, 2019 at 1:23 am | Permalink

                “And how does that in any way relate to what I said?”

                Well, the second example of hyperbole I gave doesn’t. I never said you portrayed Trump that way and I didn’t mean to give you that impression. I was just taking the lazy, ubiquitous hyperbole you were expressing and contrasting it to another. Flight of fancy.

                It’s very difficult to see one’s own bias, but in my view of what you’re saying here you have a very inflated sense of the amount and quality of “reason” and “facts” you’re putting forward as opposed to mere ‘opinions and rumors’.

                You say you’ve provided “reasoning, information and analysis”. Where? All I’m seeing is opinion and gossip, which is fine, but you shouldn’t posture that you’ve put forth an intricate, reasoned argument. Frankly, I haven’t either; we’ve just been batting around opinions. And you’re making at least as many absolute statements as I am.

                As far as not responding to your claims, that’s because you’ve provided a laundry list of extremely unspecific allegations, really just biased assertions in my view. Opinions presented that way are so tedious to untangle one barely knows where to begin. I’ve noticed the ‘vague laundry list’ barrage tactic used many times, perhaps because it’s so cumbersome to respond to.

                How about this, if you’re really interested in what I think about your carefully reasoned arguments, pick out the ONE that’s most compelling to you, try to be specific and maybe we can discuss it a bit.

  9. DrBrydon
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

    The school also prohibits the sending of “annoying” or “offensive” email messages.

    So what you’re saying is that no one at Alabama A&M uses email? Of course, not, because it’s not rigidly enforced (every email I get is annoying). That’s what makes rules like this so bad; they are only enforced at the whim of an administrator, when the heat is on or when some student gets annoying.

  10. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Do I infer that if a private college *hasn’t* promised to respect free speech, it won’t be considered for the list? In other words, if a private college has an official policy that prohibits ‘free speech’, it would escape scrutiny?

    Am I missing something or just reading between too many lines?

    cr

    • Posted February 12, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to know that too. The wording seems to imply it’s a list of colleges that *claim* to (or have to) respect free speech but don’t, and from that list, they chose the worst of the bunch, rather than actually being a list of colleges that are the worst for free speech.

      -Ryan

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 12, 2019 at 11:31 pm | Permalink

      FIRE reports on all American colleges & universities, but has a policy of not rating [but still reporting on] those that contractually require that their students & faculty sign away certain rights/freedoms.

      FIRE’s MISSION

      is to defend and sustain the individual rights of students and faculty members at ****** America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience — the essential qualities of liberty. FIRE educates students, faculty, alumni, trustees, and the public about the threats to these rights on our campuses, and provides the means to preserve them.

      But there is an obvious omission in the statement. It would be good to see “all of” where I’ve indicated with “*****

      I believe that FIRE’s policy is incoherent on the subject of certain religiously orientated universities such as Liberty & BYU as I can’t see what’s to stop them rating such institutions. e.g. in this article from January 2018: Liberty University Derecognizes College Democrats we see this statement:

      There is no mention here [in the “about Liberty” section of the Liberty University website] of free speech or freedom of association. In fact, these public commitments to a very specific set of religious and political views should make it abundantly clear to all would-be Liberty students that if they decide to attend Liberty, they are agreeing to abide by a clearly delineated set of rules that will limit their ability to engage in the freedom of expression and association they would enjoy at other schools. […] Because each of these private schools explicitly privileges values other than freedom of expression, FIRE has designated each one as “Not Rated” in our Spotlight database of speech policies on campus. As we explain:

      Of course, some private institutions — such as religious colleges — have particular missions that they believe require restrictions on speech. When a private university states clearly and consistently that it holds a certain set of values above a commitment to freedom of speech, FIRE does not rate that university. However, FIRE will still record the restrictions on speech at those institutions so that students can have a better understanding of the environment in which they will be educated.

  11. rustybrown
    Posted February 12, 2019 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

    Bad day for fans of the Russian collision conspiracy theory:

    “After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.”

    https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/senate-has-uncovered-no-direct-evidence-conspiracy-between-trump-campaign-n970536

  12. Posted February 12, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    The Dixie State fiasco is astonishing. “Confidentiality” is an easy way for administrators to conceal patterns of unethical behavior. I understand why they’d want to make an example of someone, to protect themselves from exposure. This story made me curious (I’m at another school in the Utah State system), so I searched for a confidentiality policy on my campus. We have a recently published FAQ for new faculty that describes a strong confidentiality policy, but I didn’t find any such policy in our actual HR and faculty codes. My colleagues here talk about tenure cases *a lot*, usually to complain about incessant procedural violations. It would be deeply ironic if those discussions got suppressed on grounds of ethics.

  13. Posted February 12, 2019 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    I thought The Evergreen State College would at least get honorable mention.


%d bloggers like this: