The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has laid out some troubling statistics in a stunning yet increasingly unsurprising report. Harvard University, widely considered the most prestigious educational institution in the U.S., has scored a zero out of a possible 100 in annual college free speech rankings. Yes, you read that right: zero.
Sean Stevens, FIRE’s Director of Polling and Analytics, commented, “Each year, the climate on college campuses grows more inhospitable to free speech. Some of the most prestigious universities in our country have the most repressive administrations.” These words cast a damning light on the Ivy League school, long held as an example of intellectual prowess and leadership. Harvard’s climate was ranked as “abysmal” after surveying over 200 students, who reported feeling silenced and fearful of sharing their views.
The people graduating from Ivy Leagues, like Harvard, are increasingly incapable of having hard conversations.
"Harvard’s score was dragged down by the fact that 9 professors and researchers at Harvard faced calls to be punished or fired based on what they had said or written —… pic.twitter.com/AgxqUgKmoY
— The Rabbit Hole (@TheRabbitHole84) September 6, 2023
One might wonder what led to such a disheartening score. According to FIRE, Harvard’s result was weighed down by the fact that nine professors and researchers faced calls for punishment or firing based on their speech, with seven of them being disciplined. While more than 100 Harvard professors formed a Council on Academic Freedom earlier this year, it’s evident that their efforts have not yet shifted the campus culture.
This issue isn’t limited to Harvard, either. The survey reveals that 72% of students feel conservative speakers should not be welcome on campuses. Other schools at the bottom of the list include the University of Texas (Austin), Dartmouth College, and Georgetown University. It is disconcerting that these schools, which churn out the nation’s future leaders, are the worst offenders in stifling free speech.
Conversely, Michigan Technological University was ranked the best for free speech, scoring 78.01 out of 100. According to Stevens, this is likely because students at technological schools focus more on engineering tasks than controversial topics. While this may reflect a different academic culture, it also underscores that open dialogue and debate have become perilous in many of America’s educational institutions.
The results of this survey should be alarming to anyone who values the First Amendment and the free exchange of ideas that is crucial for academic growth. FIRE’s CEO, Greg Lukianoff, rightly pointed out, “An environment in which you can get in trouble for the ‘wrong’ academic opinion is not one that can be depended upon to produce reliable knowledge.”
The situation is not merely a university problem but an American problem. If tomorrow’s leaders are molded in environments where free speech is stifled, we should all be concerned about the state of discourse and liberty in our nation’s future.
In a climate where 56% of students worry about being canceled for something they say, it’s clear that the essence of academic freedom is under threat. As the rankings make painfully evident, even institutions as venerable as Harvard fail to protect this foundational principle. With FIRE’s report as a grim reminder, it’s high time schools took corrective steps to fortify free speech on their campuses. Until then, the future of robust debate and discourse in America remains uncertain.