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Here Are America’s Worst Colleges For Free Speech

It is no secret that higher education in the United States is a breeding ground for the worst strains of leftism.

Many once-great universities are making national news for succumbing to the leftist zeitgeist gripping the nation — by discriminating against Asian and white applicants, forcing female athletes to compete against men, pushing COVID-19 vaccine mandates, and even by encouraging racial segregation.

Perhaps the most dangerous trend in academia is censorship — an utter disregard for free speech, coupled with the violent suppression of anyone who would engage in “wrongthink” that deviates from progressive orthodoxy.

Each year, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) — a legal nonprofit that defends the First Amendment rights of professors and students — assembles a list of the worst colleges for free speech. As FIRE explains, these universities “have been steadfast in their refusal to grant students and faculty even the most basic guarantees of freedom or fairness.”

Here are the worst of the worst.

Emerson College

Emerson College cozied up to authoritarian communism by punishing students who distributed stickers critical of the Chinese regime:

On Sept. 27, members of the campus chapter of Turning Point USA distributed stickers that referenced a popular video game and depicted the phrase “China Kinda Sus” — slang for suspicious. The “China Kinda Sus” sticker also featured an image of a hammer and sickle. One of those stickers — guess which — drew student objections online, and Emerson’s administration quickly condemned the stickers, stating that they “expressed anti-China hate.” Under pressure from campus groups and others, Emerson suspended its chapter of TPUSA and launched an investigation.

Although the school concluded that TPUSA “did not intend to target anyone other than China’s government,” the group was still held responsible for violating Emerson’s policies against biased behavior. When blasted on social media, Emerson hid Twitter comments featuring Winnie the Pooh — a symbol used to mock Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago lashed out against a professor, temporarily suspending him from his position for including censored racial slurs in an exam about employment discrimination:

Law professor Jason Kilborn asked an exam question in his civil procedure class involving an employment-law hypothetical where, among other things, a woman accused her former employer of discrimination. The question included the fact that the complainant claimed they were called — and this is verbatim — “a ‘n____’ and ‘b____’ (profane expressions for African Americans and women)” on the job. Kilborn had used the prompt in previous years’ exams without incident.

With the help of FIRE, Kilborn reached an agreement with UIC that would return him to the classroom. However, the administration soon reneged on the agreement, forcing Kilborn to take individual training about “classroom conversations that address racism” before being allowed to return. 

Kilborn, however, soon noticed that the training mentioned the same slur — redacted in the same way.

University of Florida

The University of Florida denied professors’ requests to serve as expert witnesses in a lawsuit about voting rights legislation:

In October, after professors Sharon Wright Austin, Michael McDonald, and Daniel Smith filed disclosure forms with UF concerning their planned involvement in the voting rights lawsuit, the university denied the requests, vaguely claiming that the professors’ activity “may pose a conflict of interest to the executive branch of the State of Florida” and that “litigation against the state is adverse to UF’s interests.” 

The university’s decision was met with outrage — and other professors began to come forward to describe similar instances of censorship. Fortunately, the professors had the last laugh:

Under rising pressure, UF relented and allowed the professors to testify, and ultimately revised its policy governing faculty members’ outside activities to make it more speech-protective. But the professors sued, and, in a blistering decision, a federal judge blocked UF from enforcing even the revised policy because it still gave the university too much discretion. It didn’t help that the chairman of UF’s board of trustees went on record condemning faculty members who “improperly advocate personal political viewpoints to the exclusion of others.”

The University of Florida’s viewpoint discrimination has also occurred on the basis of race. As The Daily Wire reported last year, the school invited all of the students in an anthropology course to a virtual town hall — except for the white students.

Stanford University

Stanford University earned its spot on FIRE’s list for investigating a student who engaged in political satire:

On Jan. 25, 2021, Stanford law student Nicholas Wallace sent a satirical email to a student listserv, inviting students to a fake Federalist Society event: “Originalist Case for Inciting Insurrection.” The fake event (scheduled for Jan. 6 — almost three weeks in the past) would feature Sen. Josh Hawley and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton as keynote speakers, suggesting insurrection and “doing a coup” as approaches to achieving limited government.

After Stanford’s Federalist Society complained, the university launched an investigation and placed Wallace’s diploma on hold — a mere two weeks before his graduation. Stanford only dropped the investigation after pressure from FIRE and several mainstream media outlets.

At the end of the year, Stanford’s student government engaged in the same type of censorship before reversing its decision:

In December, Stanford’s Undergraduate Senate declined to fund a College Republicans’ request for a speaker event with former Vice President Mike Pence, scheduled to be held later this month. Student senators initially cited concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and the potential for the event to draw large crowds from outside of the county and state in denying the request. However, audio recordings suggest the decision was instead based on objections to the “propagation of ideals” or “morals and values,” not safety. 

Stanford’s restrictions upon student liberties extend into every facet of university life. As The Daily Wire reported in 2020, Stanford required graduate students to sign a “Campus Compact” that barred them from participating in indoor events, hosting guests in university housing, or traveling outside of northern California without quarantining. 

Stanford also locked arms with the most repressive regime on the planet by launching the “Stanford Center on China’s Economy and Institutions” — run by the Freeman Spogli Institute, a foreign policy organization connected to the Chinese government.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Last year, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill considered hiring 1619 Project founder Nikole Hannah-Jones as a journalism professor — even suspending the normal tenure process to do so. When professors expressed their disdain, administrators surveilled their communications:

Specifically, UNC targeted journalism professors Deb Aikat and Daniel Kreiss, who both have given interviews or spoken out on social media about their frustration with the university’s handling of Hannah-Jones’ tenure bid. UNC called Aikat and Kreiss in for investigatory meetings, claiming it was doing its due diligence to discover who had disclosed the allegedly confidential donor agreement between UNC and Walter Hussman — the mega donor after whom UNC’s journalism school is named. 

The problem? Neither Aikat nor Kreiss had access to the donor agreement before it was widely distributed. Thus, it would have been difficult for either professor to be the source of the alleged leak, making the investigation’s focus on them appear to be retaliation for their criticism of the university. On the other hand, numerous administrators, development personnel, and administrative staff did have access to the document before its wide distribution.

Indeed, FIRE points out that the move violated the school’s own electronic privacy policy, which generally disallows administrators from looking through faculty emails.

Mimicking the administration’s actions, hackers broke into the website for The Carolina Review — a conservative student publication — and vandalized their distribution boxes.

“Carolina Review is the only publication on campus openly willing to break with the culturally-left orthodoxy of the university’s student body, and some people here can be unhinged,” editor-in-chief Bryson Piscitelli told The Daily Wire. “We’ve had writers never submit again or resign because of intense personal pressure from classmates, roommates, even sorority sisters.”

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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