FIRE Names the Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2019

‘Someone who tells you that you are too weak to live with free speech is not your friend…’

FIRE Names the Worst Colleges for Free Speech in 2019

Syracuse University’s Newhouse Communications Center / IMAGE: Campus Life Presents via Youtube

(Lionel Parrott, Liberty Headlines) Every year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) compiles a list of college campuses that are the biggest suppressors of free speech. Last week, the group published the 2019 edition of the list, containing the 10 “best of the worst.”

The 10 colleges that achieved this dubious honor: Alabama A&M University, Dixie State University, Georgetown University Qatar, Liberty University, Plymouth State University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Syracuse University, the University of Kansas, the University of North Alabama and the entire University of Wisconsin system.

In a press release, Robert Shibley, executive director of FIRE, said: “All of these colleges claim to—or are required to—respect student and faculty free speech rights, but not a single one delivers.”

The list includes both public and private institutions, the latter of which are not bound by the First Amendment.

FIRE said that out of 466 colleges, Alabama A&M had the greatest number of speech-restricting policies.

That’s because of its policies on harassment, which are much broader than the federal definition.

The university holds that harassment includes such things as “negative stereotyping,” “insulting … comments or gestures,” and comments “related to an individual’s age, race, gender, color, religion, national origin, disability or sexual orientation.”

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, located in Troy, N.Y., earned a top 10 spot based on a curious claim of eminent domain, which campus security resorted to when demanding protesting students vacate a sidewalk. Of course, eminent domain is the government’s right to seize private land for public use and has nothing to do with maintaining campus security.

Another notable “winner” was Syracuse University, which earned its spot on the list by suspending students of a fraternity—not for violating drinking laws, hazing or sexual harassment, but for a private skit that roasted their fellow members. A recording of the skit was leaked to the school newspaper, and apparently the derogatory language it contained was too much for some delicate students, provoking outrage.

(The same university kicked out an undergraduate for his Facebook posts, investigated a student at the law school for a humorous blog, and threatened to patrol the politically incorrect Halloween costumes of students.) FIRE noted with irony that Syracuse has the First Amendment emblazoned across one of its buildings.

Not all campuses in the top 10 are in America.

Georgetown University’s satellite campus in Qatar was also one of the worst free speech offenders, and earned the designation after it canceled a debate. The reason? One of the teams was supposed to argue that “major religions should portray God as a woman.”

While such a debate would likely have been applauded in America for its progressivism, it did not fly in Qatar. FIRE has called on American universities to honor First Amendment rights on satellite campuses abroad.

“Someone who tells you that you are too weak to live with free speech is not your friend,” said Shibley. “College students are adults, and they don’t need administrators to shield them from speech the college deems objectionable—or that its authorities simply don’t like.”