Higher ed’s worst free speech offenders of 2022

Georgetown University won the lifetime censorship award from FIRE for making the annual ranking for the fourth time.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Freedom (FIRE) distinguished the colleges who most egregiously botched a faculty or student organization’s right to tenants that align with free speech in 2022.

FIRE ranks the top 10 colleges across the nation in no particular order, and institutions were selected based on some of their head-scratching decisions such as circumventing a teacher’s academic freedom, removing funding from LGBTQ+ events, instating policies that would streamline firing tenured professors, and others.

This list differs from FIRE’s 2023 free speech rankings, which rated over 200 colleges. Texas A&M scored a healthy 54.59, which the website deemed “average.” However, they also made this list, leaving the school indignant.

More from UB: Four public West Virginia colleges ‘substantially’ restrict free speech

In addition to the top 10, Georgetown University (D.C) was given the lifetime censorship award for it gaining the attention of FIRE top-10 ranking for a record fourth time. Recently, it suspended a faculty member in response to a tweet. Georgetown stood at spot 200 – out of 203 schools – on its 2023 free speech rankings.

Let’s take a look at who FIRE identified as the worst offenders of the first amendment in 2022.

If the school also made it on FIRE’s free speech rankings, that will also be determined.

Texas A&M – free speech ranking: #40

Officials dropped sponsorship of an LGBTQ+ drag event and disallowed students to finance the event with profits from the previous year.

The school also tried to merge its 130-year-old independent newspaper into its journalism department but backed down amid protests.

Collin College (Texas)

Referred to by FIRE as the “epicenter of censorship in Texas,” the Texas college fired a history professor last January who advocated for the removal of Confederate statues.

Emporia State (Kansas)

The college adopted a policy that allowed administrators to fire tenured faculty with 30 days’ notice. The school has since fired 33 faculty members.

Administrators can fire tenured faculty for vague causes such as “operational costs” or “realignment of resources,” which leaves “these terms ripe for abuse against faculty who do not speak, write, or teach to the university’s liking,” according to FIRE.

Hamline University (Minnesota)

The Minnesota school fired a professor for what it claimed was an “Islamophobic” act by the professor showing her students a 14th-century painting of the prophet Muhammad—during a lesson on Islamic art history.

Hamline’s defense: “Respect for the observant Muslim students in that classroom should have superseded academic freedom.”

Loyola University (Louisiana)

The administration threated to fire a professor amid student complaints that he created a “hostile learning environment.”

Also, police officers were sent in to stop a student’s pro-choice demonstration.

University of Oregon – free speech ranking #130

Potential faculty members skeptical about Oregon’s tenants on diversity, equity, and inclusion risk poor scores by the faculty search committee. Tenured faculty also face this risk during tenure reviews.

University of Pennsylvania – free speech ranking #202

A professor has filed a grievance against a dean for lack of impartiality after she was threatened with possible termination for complaints she accrued from students about remarks she’s made. She is requesting a formal hearing amid potential sanctions.

Tennessee Tech

The school indefinitely suspended two student groups for joint-hosting a campus event that the president was “disturbed” and “offended by.”

Pennsylvania State University – free speech ranking #107

The Nittany Lions canceled a comedy show involving the president of a far-right group and a conservative comedian.

“One thing is clear: Penn State may defend free expression with words, but when actions are necessary, the university is all too willing to turn tail, fleeing from its First Amendment obligations and letting disruptors win,” FIRE writes.

Emerson (Massachusetts)

The Boston school delegitimized a student group following investigations into the group handing out stickers that criticized the Chinese government.

Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel
Alcino Donadel is a UB staff writer and Florida Gator alumnus. A graduate in journalism and communications, 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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