Which U.S. College Ranks Dead Last For Free Speech?

Columbia University ranked dead last for free speech with an 'abysmal' rating of 9.91 out of 100.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Colleges in America have long been held to a high standard for the fundamental right to free speech. Students are encouraged to openly debate topics in a productive way that evaluates opinions and opposing sides. But in a growing trend, college students feel more oppressed than ever from expressing their viewpoints. But one organization is trying to fight against this finding, and release public information depicting how colleges and universities size up against one another in regard to free speech. Here is who ranked dead last in this category. 

Columbia University in New York City came in last place this year for free speech on campus. This new finding was reported by The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). Columbia received this low ranking after years of incidents that have put the Ivy League school in the limelight for its reaction and responses to incidents that were reportedly hindering students’ and faculty’s first amendment rights. 

This marked the third time that FIRE released an annual College Free Speech ranking report. The nonprofit non-partisan organization is dedicated to advocating for free speech and civil liberties as it pertains to school settings. The report was developed in aid of College Pulse and conducted the survey on 45,000 students from more than 200 colleges.

The FIRE free speech report is the largest of its kind on the topic. The assessment analyzed students’ answers to questions on guest speaker issues involving harassment and calls to uninvite them, incidents involving faculty sanctioning, and general policies that barred or restricted speech. Coming in last place, Columbia was the only college on the list that scored a rating dubbed “abysmal.” 

The New York historic school scored 9.91 out of 100 for free speech rating. The rating was brought down by a plethora of incidents over the past few years involving professors and the school’s response to incidents involving them. The database that the study relied on shows at least eight incidents documented between 2020 and 2022.

The reported events occurring at Columbia University hindering free speech were documented on both sides of politics. In 2020, Professor Mitch Silver faced termination because of a writing course that was deemed Islamaphobic by some. In 2021, a far-right watchlist group advocated for the removal of Professor Anthony Zenkus for his tweets regarding racism and inequality. 

Joining Columbia University in the bottom rankings was the University of Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia school scored second to last in free speech with a 14.32 rating. Rensselaer Polytechnic Insitute, Georgetown University, and Skidmore College rounded out the bottom five. 

On the opposite side of things, the University of Chicago coveted a top ranking. However, even the best-ranked college couldn’t score above an 80 for free speech, as Chicago brought home a score of 77.92. Kansas State University, Purdue University, Mississippi State University, and Oklahoma State University were next in line for top-ranked institutes for expression.

free speech

FIRE doesn’t just hope that this report will help students and families when making important college decisions. The idea is that it will also equip the colleges and universities with a determination to make amends, and change policies that foster these free speech-altering environments. FIRE noted that multiple schools on the report have reached out to the non-profit for advice on how to improve their rankings.