FIRE Names 2019’s Worst Universities for Free Speech


Every year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) releases a list of the worst colleges and universities in the country for free speech: schools that routinely violate the First Amendment rights of students and faculty on campus.

On Tuesday, February 12, FIRE released its list for 2019. The list includes both public and private institutions. Public colleges and universities must protect students’ free speech since, as public institutions, they are bound by the First Amendment. Private colleges aren’t required by the Constitution to respect student and faculty speech rights, but most private colleges across the country—including those who appear on FIRE’s list—explicitly promise to do so. The list includes Liberty University, Syracuse University, and the entire University of Wisconsin System.

FIRE’s press release describes some of the free speech violations that earned universities their spots on the list:

This year’s list includes campus officials who muzzled student journalists; expelled fraternity members for their private, satirical roast of fellow members; silenced a debate union’s planned religious discussion; cited “eminent domain” to remove peaceful campus leafleters; and bent to elected officials’ demands to censor an American flag art installation.

Liberty University made the list because of its repeated efforts to censor its student newspaper, the Liberty ChampionFIRE’s website reports:

On Aug. 16, WORLD magazine issued a report alleging repeated efforts to silence the Liberty Champion that date back years. WORLD highlighted a 2016 situation when Falwell reportedly cut sports editor Joel Schmieg’s column criticizing President Donald Trump for saying he “grab[s] [women] by the p****” during a leaked recording from a 2005 filming of “Access Hollywood.”

The censorship continued into 2018 when writer Jack Panyard’s article about unmarried pregnant students was cut before publication. It was his second article to be censored that year. Dean of the School of Communication and Digital Content Bruce Kirk warned Panyard that Liberty intended to restructure the Champion and that Panyard’s position of editor-in-chief would no longer exist, leading four members of the paper to resign.

WORLD also reported that students on the newspaper staff who receive scholarships are required to sign a nondisclosure agreement conditioning their scholarships to their “full and continuous compliance” with newspaper rules. Further, they cannot comment on social media “about any publication of the Liberty Champion or its affiliated communication services.”

“College students are adults, and they don’t need administrators to shield them from speech the college deems objectionable — or that its authorities simply don’t like,” said FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley.

This year’s list can be found here. Previous lists can be found here.

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