Latest FIRE Assessment Reveals Harvard’s Abysmal Free Speech Ranking

In a report by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), Harvard University has earned the title of the worst college in the nation for free speech. FIRE, not mincing words, asserts that Harvard’s 0.00 rating is, in fact, “generous.” The report states, “Its actual score is -10.69.”

According to the “2024 College Free Speech Rankings: What Is the State of Free Speech on America’s College Campuses?” released on Wednesday, Harvard received the lowest possible score, a dismal 0.00, marking it as the sole institution to attain an “Abysmal” speech climate rating.

FIRE stated that Harvard’s actual score of -10.69 was more than six standard deviations below the average. The score was more than two standard deviations below the second-to-last school in the rankings and its Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania.

Sean Stevens, the director of polling and analytics at FIRE, expressed little surprise at the outcome, saying, “We’ve done these rankings for years now, and Harvard is consistently near the bottom. I thought it would be pretty much impossible for a school to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions.”

Earlier this year, 100 Harvard professors and faculty members formed the Council on Academic Freedom in response to concerns about free speech on campus. They deemed it a “crisis time” when “confidence in American higher education is sinking.”

The University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, and Fordham University joined Harvard in the bottom five schools. In contrast, Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, and Florida State University emerged as the top five.

Stevens offered insight into why technological institutions might fare better, saying, “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. They’re there to make things work as engineers.”

Comparing this year’s findings to the previous year, Columbia University held the undesirable distinction of being ranked the lowest for free speech, scoring 34.60 and a “Below Average” speech climate rating. The University of Chicago claimed the top spot with a score of 65.95 and an “Above Average” speech climate rating.

The rankings were based on survey responses from over 55,000 students enrolled in four-year degree programs at 254 colleges and universities between January and June 2023. The survey touched on various topics, such as abortion, gun control, racial inequality, religion, transgender rights, etc.

Abortion emerged as the most challenging topic to discuss openly, with 49% of survey students finding it difficult. The survey also delved into students’ comfort levels in sharing their political views, their tendencies to self-censor, and their perceptions of the college administration’s commitment to protecting free speech.

In a notable difference between the top and bottom five schools, 45% of students at the former believed it was “never acceptable” to disrupt a campus speech by shouting down the speaker, compared to only 27% at the latter.

Furthermore, 44% of all surveyed students were against allowing speakers who believed transgender people had a mental disorder on campus, and 42% opposed speakers who argued that Black Lives Matter is a hate group.