With professors toppling displays by pro-life students and conservative pundits being chased off campus, it has become clear that most modern colleges are not the bastions of free speech that critics say they should be.
When it comes to determining which is the least receptive to different points of view, however, one name stands out: Harvard University.
The elite school was dead last in a recent report compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, which officially gave it a 0.00 on its scale but noted that the actual ranking should have been considerably lower.
FIRE Director of Polling and Analytics Sean Stevens acknowledged that he was “not totally surprised” to see the Ivy League university register the lowest free-speech score since it has been “consistently near the bottom” in previous studies. Just how badly Harvard performed, however, did come as something of a shock.
“I thought it would be pretty much impossible to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions,” he said.
Last year’s bottom-ranked college, Columbia University, scored a comparatively high 34.6 with a “below average” rating compared to the “abysmal” rating Harvard scored this year.
Harvard is #1!!
(for being the worst school for free speech) pic.twitter.com/jJoQ06len7
— DC_Draino (@DC_Draino) September 6, 2023
After calculating responses from students at 254 U.S. institutions, only four — Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, and Oregon State University — scored a rating of “good.”
Again, Stevens said that the top-ranked school was fairly predictable.
“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,” he explained. “They’re there to make things work as engineers.”
As for those controversial topics, the FIRE study identified several that have come to symbolize the ongoing crackdown on free speech across many college campuses.
According to the report: “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.”
Abortion emerged as the most challenging topic, with nearly half of all students surveyed describing it as an issue about which it is difficult to have “an open and honest conversation.”