Though they tout themselves as bastions of robust debate and diversity, American colleges and universities have routinely suppressed free speech through their policies and actions.
Now, a leading advocate for campus free speech has produced a list of the 10 worst violators.
Among them, says the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, is a school the forbade handing out Spanish-language copies of the U.S. Constitution outside a free speech zone, a university that threatened the funding of its independent student newspaper and another that put a student through a months-long investigation and a four-hour hearing for a joke.
“College administrators, and sometimes even students, are going to greater and greater lengths to justify muzzling expression on campus,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley.
“This type of censorship makes for a sterile environment where lively debate and discussion can’t thrive. The public deserves to know which colleges will defend free expression — and which ones will go to seemingly any length to silence it.”
FIRE, for the first time, also gave a Lifetime Censorship Award to DePaul University in Chicago.
Here is FIRE’s list of the 10 worst violators in the past year, in no particular order:
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, New York)
Drexel University (Philadelphia)
Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Los Angeles Community College District (Los Angeles)
Fordham University (New York City)
Evergreen State College (Olympia, Washington)
Albion College (Albion, Michigan)
Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)
University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
Texas State University (San Marcos, Texas)
FIRE said DePaul has a “decade-long rap sheet of suppressing speech at every turn.”
“From denying recognition to a student organization criticizing marijuana laws, to forcing the DePaul Socialists, Young Americans for Freedom, and College Republicans to pay for security in order to host speakers at their meetings and events, to forbidding a group from using the slogan ‘Gay Lives Matter,’” FIRE said.
FIRE noted that public colleges and universities are bound by the First Amendment. While its list include private colleges, which are not bound by the First Amendment, the organization noted these schools explicitly promise to protect the free-speech rights of faculty and students.
Last month, a court in California delivered a major blow to the use of restrictive “free speech zones” on campuses, allowing a student’s complaint to go to trial.
The lawsuit is against the Los Angeles Community College District, which is on FIRE’s top-10 list.
FIRE noted at the time that while there have been many such cases, this one was set apart because the Department of Justice intervened, siding with the student and against the college and its “free speech zone.”
Last September, the Trump Justice Department filed a statement of interest in a dispute in Georgia over a college’s limited “free speech zones,” warning that schools must in America “protect free speech” and must not prevent students from “communicating religious messages.”