After a 15-year decline, more colleges have become hostile to free speech
The (college) kids are not alright. While it may come as no surprise at this point, a new analysis spotlights just how hostile to free speech our system of higher education has become — and it’s getting worse.
The nonpartisan Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression just released its updated campus free-speech rankings, which evaluate 486 US colleges and universities. The group finds that the vast majority of these schools restrict free speech.
It awarded 94 colleges a “red light” ranking, reserved for its worst offenders whose policies clearly restrict free expression. And it gave 324 schools a “yellow light” ranking for having policies that put vague rules on speech.
“Almost 90% of colleges maintain policies that infringe on free speech rights,” FIRE concludes. “How do they get away with that? Well, people don’t know about it.”
You only have to consider a few of the examples FIRE documents to see just how censorious and Orwellian some of these schools are.
Bates College, for example, has a disturbing policy in which students who are reported for “bias” can be subjected to “remedial and supportive actions” such as “education and training.” (Translation: Wrong-thinking students will be “reeducated” until they acknowledge the infinite nature of pronouns and Dr. Anthony Fauci as the one and true prophet.)
Delaware State University prevents students from using campus Internet to cause “offense to others” — whatever that means. And the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth requires students to notify the police 48 hours in advance of their intention to use the campus’ single “free speech zone” where demonstrations are allowed. (Because free speech always requires permission from the police. Duh!)
But what’s particularly disturbing about this year’s report is that it shows, for the first time in more than a decade, things are getting worse — not better. FIRE says 12 schools dropped from a yellow rating to a red this year, meaning they crossed the line from potential censorship to outright restriction. The increased number of schools with “red light” ratings ends 15 years of annual declines.
In short, progress is starting to be reversed, and speech is becoming even less free on campus. This is serious cause for concern.
The higher-education system is leading a huge chunk of the next generation to reject the fundamental American principle of free expression. You don’t have to take my word for it. The Knight Foundation surveyed college students in 2019 and found that 41% don’t believe “hate speech” should be protected under free speech. They also found that 58% of college-age women believe “inclusivity” is more important than freedom of expression.
This attitude isn’t consigned to our campuses. It’s infecting all walks of American elite life.
Why do we have an establishment media that cheerlead deplatforming campaigns and egg on cancel culture? Why do we have commerce platforms like PayPal and Patreon that have tried to fine and un-bank “problematic” people?
Why do we have politicians, like Gov. Kathy Hochul, who openly say that “hateful” speech (read: speech they don’t agree with) should be illegal? Why do we have social media companies that think it’s OK to censor the New York Post for reporting legitimate news about the Biden family?
There’s one simple, if indirect, answer: because college students leave their campuses, which are hostile to free expression, and take this distorted worldview with them into their professional lives in media, business, politics and tech.
So we can’t just write off the censorious state of American higher education as crazy happenings on campus. If we want to preserve the value of freedom of speech for future generations, we have to stop the rot at its core. America’s free-speech crisis is getting even worse — and if we don’t stop it now, soon it might be too late.
Brad Polumbo is a journalist, YouTuber and co-founder of BASEDPolitics.