It’s not exactly news that free speech on campus is in trouble.
But new data shows how censored and illiberal higher education has become – and suggests it may only get worse.
The non-partisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Speech has just released its annual Free Speech Rankings, which analyzes 248 four-year colleges, and finds that there is a pervasive “culture of conformity and censorship” on campus.
Overall, 73 schools have a below-average climate for freedom of expression.
The worst offenders are in fact some of the country’s most elite universities, with Harvard University being rated America’s worst free speech school; Other high-profile institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University and Fordham University, and the University of South Carolina round out the five worst violations of free speech.
Deplatforming attempts at these five schools had an amazing 81% success rate.
(So much for the whole “abandonment culture isn’t real” narrative, right?)
“Students should be aware that a college degree in certain schools can come at the expense of their right to free speech.” said Sean Stevens of FIRE.
At least some are aware of this terrible reality.
FIRE’s analysis found that the majority of students would feel uncomfortable publicly disagreeing with a professor about a political issue or voicing their views on a controversial issue during a classroom discussion.
But students are not passive victims of this suppression of their right to free speech—many are willing participants.
At least, that is the inevitable implication of their own attitudes captured in the survey.
Up to 72% of students think that controversial conservative speakers should not be allowed on campus, depending on the topic, and up to 43% think similarly when a liberal speaker brings up controversial topics.
And there are signs that students’ attitudes towards free speech are deteriorating.
A worrying 63% of students said it was acceptable to yell at a speaker to prevent a speech. Last year it was 62%.
And 45% think it’s okay to stop others from attending a controversial campus speech, up from 37% last year.
Most worryingly, 27% of students find it acceptable to use Violence to block a campus speech, up from 20% last year.
Suffice it to say: the children are not doing well.
Let me explain why this is so important.
For one thing, no real learning can take place in such oppressive academic environments.
One-sided conversations in which many participants are too afraid to say what they really think will not give students the critical thinking skills and true open-mindedness they need to thrive in a diverse country’s developing economy compete and be successful.
More importantly, these repressive attitudes are not just limited to academia.
For years, progressives and some conservatives have resisted the excesses and extremism on campus, arguing that this only happened in a few progressive campus towns and that they would all “outgrow it” when they made their way into the real world.
You were wrong.
Instead, over the last decade we have witnessed the subtle but poisonous infiltration of illiberal attitudes on campus into the closest spheres of life for graduates, be it in American business, in politics, or even in our public schools.
So we find ourselves in increasingly uncomfortable situations: young workers at companies like Spotify are revolting and trying to silence stars like Joe Rogan, progressive congressmen openly label ideas they disagree with as “political violence” and teachers punish students when they have a Gadsden flag patch on their backpack.
The struggle to perpetuate America’s culture of free speech – and that is a matter of life support – is doomed if we cannot reclaim our nation’s campuses.
How can we do that?
Well, as far as public universities go, we can pressure our state governments to tie their funding to the adoption of stronger policies promoting free speech.
And we can support the work of nonprofits like FIRE to challenge unconstitutional policies on campus censorship in court.
Private universities, on the other hand, are legally permitted to take repressive measures.
But we don’t have to support them in their illiberal mission.
American families can and should vote with their wallets, use FIRE’s rankings to rate potential schools, and not send their students — or their tuition checks — to schools with oppressive policies or campus environments.
When enough money speaks, university leaders will start listening.
This reckoning is long overdue, because as a country we are facing a test.
And in the interests of future generations, we cannot afford to fail.
Brad Polumbo is an independent journalist and co-founder of BASED policy.