2 Catholic universities among the 5 worst campuses for free speech: report

Aerial view of a Georgetown University in Washington D,C.
Aerial view of a Georgetown University in Washington D,C. | Getty Images

Two Catholic colleges have some of the worst climates for free speech in the United States, according to a recently released report that analyzed more than 250 campuses, most of which continue to maintain lackluster free speech protections. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, formerly the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, released its 2024 College Free Speech Rankings on Wednesday.

The research is based on interviews with 55,102 students from 254 colleges and universities conducted between Jan. 13 and June 23. The margin of error for the overall undergraduate respondents is +/- 1 percentage point, while the margin of error for student sub-demographics goes from 2 to 5 percentage points.

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The report, created in conjunction with The College Pulse, ranked American institutions of higher education based on their openness to discussing controversial issues on campus, tolerance for both liberal and conservative speakers on campus, students' perception of their college's free speech policies, their level of comfort expressing ideas, students' acceptance of protest activity and written policies related to free speech and academic freedom.

Michigan Technological University ranked the highest out of the 254 campuses, receiving an overall score of 78.01 and labeled "good" speech climate. By contrast, Harvard University in Massachusetts scored the worst with an overall score of 0.00, labeled an "abysmal" speech climate. 

Near the bottom of the list are two Catholic institutions: Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Fordham University in New York.

Georgetown had the fourth-worst free speech climate with an overall score of 17.45, indicating a "very poor" climate for free speech, while Fordham placed fifth-worst with a "poor" climate for free speech and an overall score of 21.72. 

A Georgetown University student from the class of 2024 told researchers that she was told in class that she could not use the words "women" or "mother" when referring to maternal mortality rates but was told to instead use the term "birthing person." A student from the class of 2023 recalled being harassed for expressing a conservative opinion online and has been mocked by peers and at least one professor. 

At Fordham University, one student from the class of 2024 told researchers that they "felt that sometimes in a few of my classes, the catholic view or perception was ignored or misunderstood, which was uncomfortable at a catholic university."

The report also detailed free speech climates at other Catholic colleges and universities, finding that Duquesne University has a "poor" climate with an overall score of 25.25, receiving the eighth-lowest overall score. Boston College received a score of 29.94 and the label of "poor" climate. 

The additional Catholic colleges included in the report all had "below average" free speech climates: Loyola University, Chicago (38.09), Santa Clara University (38.47), Creighton University (38.58) and the University of Notre Dame (39.92).

The report also compiled a separate list of six "warning" schools, reserved for universities that have policies that "clearly and consistently" prioritize "other values over a commitment to freedom of speech."

Among the "warning" schools, Catholic St. Louis University received the lowest overall score at 18.74. Brigham Young University, affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had an overall score of 25.80. Liberty University, an Evangelical institution in Virginia, received an overall score of 35.62. 

Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Texas, had an overall score of 23.80.

The non-denominational Hillsdale College had the highest score of all the "warning" schools (46.87), while Pepperdine University, which has historic ties to the Churches of Christ, received an overall score of 29.17. 

The report gave each college a green, yellow or red-light rating based on the institution's established policies related to free speech.

Twenty of the 25 schools with the best free speech climates, as determined by their overall scores, had "green light" ratings, while the lowest-ranked school to receive a "green light" rating was the University of Florida, which had an overall score of 29.37. 

In total, 36 colleges and universities had "green light" ratings, 158 received "yellow light" ratings, and 54 had "red light" ratings. The surveys also found that the student bodies were predominantly liberal at all but 20 schools examined. 

Auburn University in Alabama had the highest-ranked free speech climate with a majority conservative student body, placing in second place among all colleges and universities with an overall score of 72.53. 

Meanwhile, the research determined that two schools included in the report had an equal number of conservative and liberal students: the University of South Carolina and the University of Toledo.

While the average liberal-to-conservative student ratio at liberal colleges was measured at 5:1, Smith College had the most lopsided ratio at 55:1. On the other hand, the average conservative-to-liberal student ratio at predominantly conservative colleges was 3:1, with Liberty University having the highest ratio of 20:1.  

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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