Of 250 institutions analyzed, why did Harvard University rank last in free speech?

The University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Skidmore College, Northwestern University and Dartmouth College were all part of the bottom 10.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and College Pulse have released their annual ranking on campus free speech, and one of the most prestigious universities in the nation received the lowest score possible: a fat zero.

Harvard University, currently ranked 9th and 6th, respectively, in Forbes’ and The Wall Street Journal’s latest college rankings, placed last out of 248 schools and is the only institution to have received an “Abysmal” speech climate rating. More than half (53%) of students reported self-censoring on campus at least once or twice a month, and 58% said they worried that being misunderstood could lead to reputational damage.

While student sanctions are relatively common across higher education and are a leading reason faculty choose to self-censor, Harvard’s low ranking can also be attributed to administrators’ lack of support for free speech. Specifically, FIRE recorded four times administrators sanctioned scholars between 2019 and 2023.

But Harvard is not the only elite college featured in such an unflattering spot. The University of Pennsylvania, Georgetown University, Skidmore College, Northwestern University and Dartmouth College were all in the bottom 10.

The survey analyzed responses from over 55,000 undergraduate students regarding their experience, opinions and perception of free speech on their campus. Their perception was broken down into six categories: how acceptable different methods of shutting out campus speakers are, openness to discussing various political topics and comfort in expressing ideas. The latter gained relatively low scores across all institutions; the college with the highest proportion of students feeling comfortable expressing different views was only 48%.

Other bonus factors could either boost or hurt an institution’s score, such as examples from school community members who supported a faculty member, student, or speaker’s right to free speech. Sanctioning a faculty member or student or disinviting a speaker hurts a college.


FIRE’s bottom 10 schools for free speech

Rank School Overall Speech climate
239 University of Texas, Austin 26.38 Poor
240 Dartmouth College 25.76 Poor
241 Duquesne University 25.25 Poor
242 Northwestern University 23.95 Poor
243 Skidmore College 23.59 Poor
244 Fordham University 21.72 Poor
245 Georgetown University 17.45 Very poor
246 University of South Carolina 12.24 Very poor
247 University of Pennsylvania 11.13 Very poor
248 Harvard University 0.00 Abysmal


FIRE’s top 10 schools for free speech

Texas A&M’s inclusion on this list might strike some individuals as surprising, considering one faculty member once expected to lead its journalism department was shut out for her views on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Rank School Overall Speech climate
1 Michigan Technological University 78.01 Good
2 Auburn University 72.53 Good
3 University of New Hampshire 72.17 Good
4 Oregon State University 71.56 Good
5 Florida State University 69.64 Above average
6 University of Virginia 68.00 Above average
7 Texas A&M University 67.92 Above average
8 George Mason University 67.65 Above average
9 University of North Carolina, Greensboro 67.53 Above average
10 University of Colorado, Boulder 66.54 Above average


Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and first-generation journalism graduate from the University of Florida. His beats have ranged from Gainesville's city development, music scene and regional little league sports divisions. He has triple citizenship from the U.S., Ecuador and Brazil.

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