A new ranking of the free speech climates on 55 of America’s “largest and most prestigious campuses” puts the University of Chicago at No. 1, which is either just plain false or indicates that repression of conservative ideas on campuses is worse than most people think.
The ranking was based on what College Pulse, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and RealClearEducation are calling the “largest-ever free speech survey of college students.” Some 20,000 currently enrolled students from the 55 colleges were surveyed in a comprehensive comparison of student experiences of free speech on their campuses.
The ranking is “designed to help parents and prospective students choose the right college.” The report explained that “the rankings capture and score, on a scale from 0-100, the overall speech climate, as well as the distinct experiences of conservative and liberal students.” The survey took into account “the ability to discuss challenging topics like race, gender dynamics, and geopolitical conflicts,” and “whether students hold back from openly sharing their views.”
The ranking puts the University of Chicago at No. 1. “The Ivy League offers students sterling credentials, but is miserly when it comes to offering them free speech,” stated the report. “Try the University of Chicago instead.”
The University of Chicago prides itself on the “Chicago Principles,” a mission statement claiming a commitment to protecting free speech and encouraging open debate. The publication of the Chicago Principles garnered the university a lot of media attention and kudos from parents concerned with leftist orthodoxy and free speech organizations like FIRE, and set the University of Chicago apart from other elite universities on efforts to create an environment of political and ideological tolerance on campus. The principles have even been adopted by other schools.
However, in practice, these principles are routinely ignored. For example, the University of Chicago has been in hot water recently due to a July statement by the English Department faculty, which announced “For the 2020-2021 graduate admissions cycle, the University of Chicago English Department is accepting only applicants interested in working in and with Black studies.” The English Department’s move to block other areas of intellectual exploration was picked up by major news outlets, creating a lot of negative press for the university.
As a current student, I have had repeated negative experiences with the anti-free speech culture at the University of Chicago when I received personal and violent attacks from the left-leaning student body for opposing socialism in a “get out and vote” initiative. Last year, former university president of College Republicans, Brett Barbin, also experienced harassment from the left-wing mob for attempting to stop mandatory student fees from funding abortion. In a recent article, I documented how this toxic campus culture has been fostered by the administration and department heads, like those in the English Department, who use their power to silence debate, restrict intellectual diversity, and endorse the mob mentality.
The university also made headlines back in January 2018 when Steve Bannon, the former director of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the former chief strategist in Trump’s White House, accepted an invitation from a University of Chicago professor to debate at the university. In explaining why he invited Bannon, the professor explained, “Whether you like his [Bannon’s] views or not, he seems to have understood something about America that I’m curious to learn more about.”
Students and faculty at the University of Chicago launched a campaign demanding that Bannon’s invitation be rescinded. A group of professors issued a statement, which took the form of a demand letter to Chicago’s president and provost, calling for Bannon to be de-platformed.
The letter declared that “the defense of freedom of expression cannot be taken to mean” that views professors deem abhorrent “must be afforded the rights [sic] and opportunity to be aired on a university campus.” Two years later, Bannon has yet to speak at the university.
The next four of the top five schools for free speech, according to the survey’s findings, are Kansas State University, Texas A&M University, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Arizona State University. The five worst schools for free speech are Syracuse University, Dartmouth College, Louisiana State University, University of Texas, and DePauw University.
“These rankings provide proof that your choice of college can make a real difference in your ability to speak your mind,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “Campus leaders no longer have an excuse for remaining ignorant about students who feel muzzled on their campuses. One thing is for sure: colleges have a lot of work to do.”
Perhaps the ranking and its underlying survey are accurate. But if the University of Chicago is ranked No. 1 for free speech, then Shibley is absolutely right: those who support equal treatment of people regardless of their political leanings have a lot of work to do.