The oldest institution of higher learning in the US is also the worst when it comes to freedom of speech, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) survey released this week.
The rankings showed Harvard University at zero, with the cumulative score actually standing at negative 10.69, FIRE’s director of polling and analytics Sean Stevens told the New York Post.
“I thought it would be pretty much impossible for a school to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions,” Stevens said. Harvard disciplined seven out of nine professors and researchers over something they had said or written.
The university in Cambridge, Massachusetts – just north of Boston – was chartered in 1650 and is considered one of the most prestigious in North America. Harvard’s censorious climate has led more than 100 faculty to organize a Council on Academic Freedom earlier this year.
Stevens said he was not “totally surprised,” as Harvard has ranked “consistently near the bottom” since FIRE started doing the survey four years ago. It is the only school that FIRE currently ranks as “Abysmal.”
“An environment in which you can actually get in trouble for the ‘wrong’ academic opinion is not one that can be depended upon to produce reliable knowledge,” FIRE president and CEO Greg Lukianoff said, announcing the survey results.”It’s especially disturbing that some of the worst performing institutions are among America’s most influential schools, including Harvard, Georgetown, Northwestern and Dartmouth.”
Rounding out the bottom five were the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Georgetown University in Washington, DC and Fordham University in New York City.
New York’s Columbia University, last year’s worst school for free speech, came in 214th this time around. A total of 248 colleges and universities were considered.
The best-ranked school for free speech this year was the Michigan Technological University in Houghton, with a score of 78.01. Alabama’s Auburn University, the University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University and Florida State University made up the rest of the top five.
According to FIRE, the rankings rely heavily on the schools’ speech codes and responses to deplatforming demands. A survey of 55,000 students also revealed that 56% were worried about getting “canceled” for something they had said, while 27% believed it was acceptable to use violence to stop speech on campus in some circumstances.
The survey showed that the most difficult topics to discuss on campus are “abortion, gun control, racial inequality, and transgender rights.”
FIRE was founded in 1999, with the mission to “defend and sustain the individual rights of all Americans to free speech and free thought – the most essential qualities of liberty.”
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