Harvard University has been named as the worst school for free speech in the United States in 2023 according to a survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE). In their annual college free speech rankings, the state of free speech at the Ivy League school was dubbed “abysmal”.
The school received a 0 out of 100 rating on a scale measuring factors including how strong the school’s policies in favor of free speech are and how many professors, students, and campus speakers have been targeted by authorities for their speech. FIRE says the dismal score was “generous,” considering Harvard’s actual score was a -10.69, according to their calculations.
FIRE's director of polling and analytics, Sean Stevens, commented, “We’ve done these rankings for years now, and Harvard is consistently near the bottom. I thought it would be pretty much impossible for a school to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions.”
The score was dragged down by the fact that nine professors and researchers at Harvard faced calls to be punished or fired based on what they had said or written — and seven of the nine were actually professionally disciplined. The survey also considers student sentiment about free speech based on polling FIRE conducted in partnership with research firm College Pulse.
Stevens continued, “I’d say the state of free speech on campus is stagnant at best, and possibly a little worse than last year.” He noted that despite being the most acclaimed academic institution in the country, Harvard’s free speech policies are far behind other universities.
The second-worst school for free speech this year was the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, followed by the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Georgetown University in DC, and Fordham University. However, Columbia University, which was the worst school for free speech in 2022, managed to rank 214th in the survey.
The top school for free speech this year was Michigan Technological University in Houghton, which earned 78.01 out of 100 possible points. The University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, Auburn University and Florida State University rounded out the top five.
The survey of 55,000 current students from 254 universities also yielded some staggering results. 56% of students worry about getting canceled for something they said, and 27% said it’s acceptable to use violence to stop campus speech in some circumstances.
In April this year, more than 100 of Harvard’s faculty members formed a Council on Academic Freedom to defend open inquiry on campus. Janet Halley, a Harvard Law School professor and member of the Council, commented, “Many, many people are being threatened with — and actually put through — disciplinary processes for their exercise of free speech and academic freedom.”
The findings of FIRE’s survey contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the state of free speech on college campuses across the country. It is concerning to see Harvard University, an esteemed institute of higher learning, receiving such a dismal rating and hopefully, future rankings will see an improvement.