(The Center Square) – Parents and students looking for a college where the free exchange of ideas is protected now have a tool to help them narrow their choices, according to a recent report.

An overall ranking of 248 schools was produced based on the responses of over 55,000 students to a survey about the free speech climate on their campuses. The findings shed light on what students say about their ability to express themselves in a variety of contexts and how their school administrations handle speech controversies. 

More than a dozen Pennsylvania universities made the list, though none earned scores higher than “average.”

The in-depth report “2024 College Free Speech Rankings” was compiled by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, in conjunction with College Pulse. 

Michigan Technological University took the number one spot, scoring 78.01. Auburn University (72.53), the University of New Hampshire (72.17), and Oregon and Florida State Universities rounded out the top five (71.56 and 69.64 respectively). 

The top four schools earned “Good” speech climate ratings, and Florida State an “above average.” 

Conversely, two Ivy League schools took the bottom two spots. 

Harvard University came in dead last with a score of 0.00, which FIRE calls “generous.” Its actual score is -10.69 – more than six standard deviations below the average and more than two below the second-to-last ranked University of Pennsylvania scoring 11.13. 

Completing the bottom five are: 

  • University of South Carolina (12.24)
  • Georgetown University (17.45)
  • Fordham University (21.72)

Fordham earned a “poor” rating, Georgetown, the Universities of Pennsylvania and South Carolina each earned a “very poor,” and Harvard stood alone with “Abysmal.”

Penn State, the Commonwealth’s largest college, ranked 189 (38.93) – a “below average” rating. The University of Pittsburgh ranked 130 (45.62).

Ten other Pennsylvania schools included in the report range from Drexel and Temple Universities with “average” ratings to Duquesne University which was rated “poor.” 

“FIRE continues to collect the most reliable and revealing data on free speech on our campuses,” nationally recognized legal scholar Jonathan Turley told the Center Square in an email statement.

Turley, who frequently writes on the subject, said the latest ranking makes abundant sense – the worst performing colleges and universities are well known in the free speech community. Schools like Northwestern, his alma mater, “have long distinguished themselves in creating environments hostile to free speech and the diversity of viewpoints.”

“Indeed, many have marketed themselves as protecting students from harmful viewpoints and speech. For the dirty dozen at the bottom of this ranking, the viewpoint intolerance maintained on campus can sometimes blur the line between education and indoctrination.” 

“Some schools are speech tolerant by law rather than choice,” Turley continued, stating it is no accident state schools tend to dominate the top performers. “It is not that academics are any more inclined to tolerance in these schools, but rather they are subject to the full force of the First Amendment.”

“You can see that in the virtual absence of conservative, libertarian, and Republican faculty members in many departments,” he said. 

Some differences between the five top- and bottom-rated schools:

  • Average overall scores at the top are 72.78 and 12.51 at the bottom.
  • Differences in self-censorship are negligible, but students at the top five schools were slightly less worried about damaging their reputation due to someone misunderstanding them. 
  • Students expressed a similar tolerance of controversial liberal speakers, but a bias toward not allowing conservative speakers is evident at the bottom five schools.
  • Average scores on the “Disruptive Conduct” component – students who say it is never acceptable to shout down speakers, block entry, or use violence to stop a campus speech – varied from a score of 41 at the top and 195 at the bottom. 
  • On average, the top schools scored 125 versus 157 at the bottom, on whether students feel their school’s administration is at least “somewhat” likely to defend free speech or a controversial speaker’s rights. 

The full rankings and methodology for all 248 schools are available on the FIRE and College Pulse websites. 

The report says the rankings also help colleges and universities better understand their campus climate in order to improve it. 

This article was republished with permission from The Center Square.

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