Harvard Receives Embarrassingly Low Freedom of Speech Score

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Fixing Education

Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse for conservatives at America’s top universities.

Generation X readers will get this: Harvard University has pulled a Blutarsky.

This is a reference to the legendary 1978 comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House. John Belushi’s character, John “Bluto” Blutarsky, gets in hot water with the college dean for having a 0.0 grade point average. What does Animal House have to do with Harvard? Well, in a recent analysis of free speech policies on campuses across America, Harvard scored pathetically low. Historically low. Indeed, they scored a 0.0 for upholding free speech rights at their institution.

Actually, that doesn’t even do Harvard’s score justice. If negative numbers were allowed, they would have scored well under zero.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) has tracked colleges across America for more than two decades, scoring them on constitutionally protected freedoms promised to all Americans. Founded in 1999 as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, they undertook a name change in 2022, expanding into off-campus free speech issues and offering legal support.

So when FIRE released their 2024 rankings report, they took special notice of Harvard, which has lagged near the bottom of the rankings for years. Harvard consistently ranks in the top 5 most prestigious universities in the US News and World Report rankings, so their low freedom of expression rankings among academies looks particularly bad.

FIRE reports:

In 2020, Harvard ranked 46 out of 55 schools. In 2021, it ranked 130 out of 154 schools. Last year, it ranked 170 out of 203 schools. And this year, Harvard completed its downward spiral in dramatic fashion, coming in dead last with the worst score ever: 0.00 out of a possible 100.00. This earns it the notorious distinction of being the only school ranked this year with an ‘Abysmal’ speech climate.

What’s more, granting Harvard a score of 0.00 is generous. Its actual score is -10.69, more than six standard deviations below the average and more than two standard deviations below the second-to-last school in the rankings, its Ivy League counterpart, the University of Pennsylvania. (Penn obtained an overall score of 11.13.)


The Director of Polling for FIRE, Sean Stevens, expressed bemusement to the New York Post:

Harvard’s score was dragged down by the fact that nine professors and researchers there faced calls to be punished or fired based on what they had said or written—and seven of the nine were actually professionally disciplined.

‘I thought it would be pretty much impossible for a school to fall below zero, but they’ve had so many scholar sanctions,’ Stevens said.

FIRE compiles the rankings in different categories based on student surveys, as well as a review of sanctions against students, faculty, and speakers for their expression. FIRE also analyzes the relative strength of the school’s policies protecting expression and assigns a grade. Students answer questions on their overall comfort expressing ideas freely, the school’s tolerance for speakers with different viewpoints, their tolerance for disruptive conduct, administration support for free expression, and student’s perceived tolerance for having open discussions about difficult topics.

Disturbingly, on a 100-point scale, no school scored more than 78.

FIRE provided an infographic listing the top 5 and bottom 5 schools in their survey.

Credit: Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (2023).

The Church of St. Floyd

Perhaps recent stories about Harvard can provide insight into the campus culture. Appearing on Fox & Friends First, a professor said most military members on campus take pains to conceal their service to our nation, to avoid backlash:

‘I’ve had military veterans that are enrolled here at Harvard College tell me that they think it’s better if they don’t tell their classmates or their faculty members before that they are members of the military,’ Kit Parker, a bioengineering professor, told ‘Fox & Friends First.’

‘Obviously, it’s impacting the way we design and deliver courses to our students. I think it’s up to the faculty member ultimately as to how much risk they want to assume when they teach a course, or they make a public statement.’

Harvard’s anti-conservative, woke, radically leftist culture is legendary. In just one prominent example, a 2022 documentary looks at the effort to cancel a black professor who failed to declare sufficient fealty to the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of the death of George Floyd:

But when it came to supporting one key black voice – somebody with something to teach the American public, and whose background and credentials could not be questioned – Harvard’s actions didn’t match its rhetoric.

Just as the Black Lives Matter movement was gaining national prominence, a witch hunt-style cancellation of Harvard’s most prominent and promising black professor was taking place. Harvard’s suppression of Professor Roland Fryer, newly exposed in a 2022 film by documentarian Rob Montz and a score of articles from prominent thinkers such as Glenn Loury and Stuart Taylor (who wrote about this issue at RealClearEducation and appears in Montz’s documentary), is an egregious example of hypocrisy at work.

Fryer’s work looked to confirm racial bias in police shootings – and found none. That, of course, upset the Keepers of the Narrative, who concocted a Clarence Thomas-style sexual harassment claim with no basis in fact, as a pretense for Harvard to remove him from the classroom, shut down his renowned research lab, and attempt to revoke his tenure.

Another high-tech lynching, just like the sordid actions against Justice Thomas.

In the wake of this episode, Harvard refused repeated requests for comment as to whether the university supports the diversity of thought.

Fully immersed in anti-racism, critical race theory, and extensive DEI programs, Harvard found itself on the wrong end of a recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down race-based admissions policies that imposed de facto racial quotas in its quest to reduce the number of Asians admitted while boosting other, more preferred minorities. Harvard vigorously defended these practices and vowed to find ways around the ruling.

In this context, then, it should come as little surprise that Harvard doesn’t uphold the ideal of the classical academy, the free exchange and debate of ideas, and the pursuit of its own motto: Veritas.

One would hope “pulling a Blutarsky” would force Harvard into a period of self-reflection, but it seems unlikely.

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