The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has produced its annual list of the 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech: 2020. As the name suggests, it is not a feather in the cap of any college to make this list. Babson College, Jones College, Harvard University, the University of Scranton, Middlebury College, Long Island University Post, the University of Connecticut, Syracuse University, Doane University and Portland State University made the “worst” list.
Another college, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, was deemed so consistently bad in the matter of First Amendment rights that FIRE gave it a “Lifetime Censorship Award.”
So who is FIRE and why do they create these “worst” lists? Responding to an email from The Daily Citizen, FIRE spokesperson Daniel Burnett offered this explanation:
“FIRE’s mission is to defend the individual rights of college students and faculty members. Our 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech list focuses on defending student and faculty First Amendment rights (at public institutions, which are bound by the Constitution) or institutional promises of free expression (at private institutions). By highlighting the worst examples of censorship in higher education, we hope to encourage these institutions to course correct. We also hope the list will serve the dual purpose of discouraging other institutions from censoring in the future. FIRE proudly defends students and faculty members from across the political aisle, and we encourage those facing censorship on campus to get in touch.”
How bad can these colleges and universities be?
Take Harvard, for example. FIRE explains that besides “blacklisting” Harvard students who are members of independent, single-sex, off-campus organizations by making them ineligible for Rhodes and Marshall scholarships and positions of leadership in on-campus organizations or athletic teams, the school also began punishing members of on-campus fraternities and sororities in the same manner.
In 2019, Harvard relieved law professor Ronald Sullivan of his duties as a faculty dean in one of the dorms after he took a short-term position on Harvey Weinstein’s defense team, which made some students in his dorm feel “unsafe.” Harvard law professors have a long history of defending controversial figures, including, for example, convicted murderer Aaron Hernandez. But once the liberal student PC mob demanded Sullivan’s head, the administration complied.
Harvard has also instituted a new policy for “high profile, controversial speakers or VIP guests” (read “conservative”) to require a “neutral moderator” in place to prevent disruptions. Even the campus newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, criticized the policy as “not so far off from a system of outright censorship” in an editorial entitled “Moderation or Suffocation?”
The other colleges and universities on FIRE’s list follow in Harvard’s footsteps vis-à-vis the lengths they will go to in controlling speech they don’t like, which mostly consists of conservative and pro-life speech. The Daily Citizen has documented many examples of this just over the last year or so.
FIRE usually contacts the offending colleges and universities by letter when these issues arise, advising them of the First Amendment rights of students and teachers. When such letters are ignored, the next step in FIRE’s arsenal is to publicly name and shame them. Hence, the “10 Worst” list gets published. If the offending institutions won’t respond to reason, then perhaps the parents who pay to send their sons and daughters to college will take note of FIRE’s list and do a little blacklisting of their own.