Harvard University ranked worst school for free speech in America

The oldest institution of higher learning in the United States has been named the worst for free speech in the nation.

Harvard University, originally founded by Puritans fleeing England in search of tolerance, scored 0.0 out of a possible 100 points on this year’s College Free Speech Rankings.

Published by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), the report aggregated the responses of over 55,000 students from more than 250 colleges and universities nationwide.

Harvard, also the wealthiest academic institution in the world, earned FIRE’s first-ever zero rating, and in fact attained a negative 10.69 score until the research outfit decided on 0.0 as its lowest allowable rating.


Among the main reasons for Harvard’s dismal placing this year was how the Ivy League School treated its faculty who hold insufficiently woke opinions: nine professors or researchers faced calls to be punished or fired for what they had said or written. Seven of the nine were ultimately disciplined for their speech.

The almost four-century-old Cambridge, Massachusetts University trailed the next-worst school on the list by a full 11 points.

Coming in second-last place was the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, followed by the University of South Carolina in Columbia, Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and New York’s Fordham University.

FIRE called Harvard’s record “abysmal”, though the result did not surprise Sean Stevens, FIRE’s director of polling and analytics.

“We’ve done these rankings for years now, and Harvard is consistently near the bottom,” Stevens told the New York Post. He said that while he thought it was impossible for a school to earn a negative score, Harvard managed the feat because “theyve had so many scholar sanctions”.

FIRE’s polling, conducted in partnership with research firm College Pulse, uncovered a number of alarming statistics.


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Of the more than 55,000 college students surveyed, 56 percent said they were worried about their reputation being damaged by what they say or do.

When asked if certain conservative speakers should be banned from campus, 57 percent to 72 percent of respondents agreed, depending on who the speaker was.

More than a quarter of students — 27 percent — believe that using violence to stop a campus speech is acceptable to some degree.

At the five least-free colleges on FIRE’s 2023 list, attempts to de-platform speakers were successful 81 percent of the time.


While Harvard’s horizon looks especially dim, there is a remnant that has not bowed the knee to Baal: this year, more than 120 Harvard professors banded together to form the Council of Academic Freedom at Harvard to promote “free inquiry, intellectual diversity, and civil discourse”.

The initiative was not enough to move the needle on Harvard’s free speech rankings, but it has carved out a safe haven for those still committed to unfettered intellectual expression.

Writing for the Boston Globe in April, Harvard Professors Steven Pinker and Bertha Madras, founding members of the new council both, began with a sobering snapshot of America’s academic landscape:

Confidence in American higher education is sinking faster than for any other institution, with barely half of Americans believing it has a positive effect on the country.

No small part in this disenchantment is the impression that universities are repressing differences of opinion, like the inquisitions and purges of centuries past. It has been stoked by viral videos of professors being mobbed, cursed, heckled into silence, and sometimes assaulted, and it is vindicated by some alarming numbers.

Then they laid out their game plan:

Naturally, since we are professors, we plan to sponsor workshops, lectures, and courses on the topic of academic freedom. We also intend to inform new faculty about Harvard’s commitments to free speech and the resources available to them when it is threatened. We will encourage the adoption and enforcement of policies that protect academic freedom.

When an individual is threatened or slandered for a scholarly opinion, which can be emotionally devastating, we will lend our personal and professional support. When activists are shouting into an administrator’s ear, we will speak calmly but vigorously into the other one, which will require them to take the reasoned rather than the easy way out. And we will support parallel efforts led by undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral students.

Whether or not this noble endeavour is too little, too late — or whether a stultifying woke groupthink will have the last laugh — only time will tell.

One thing is sure: a 387-year pledge to Veritas is at least worth trying to revive.


Kurt Mahlburg is a writer and author, and an emerging Australian voice on culture and the Christian faith. He has a passion for both the philosophical and the personal, drawing on his background as a graduate architect, a primary school teacher, a missionary, and a young adult pastor. 

Image: Pexels

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  • Simon Bradley
    commented 2023-09-23 11:37:57 +1000
    Harvard? The US University borne out of Puritan prejudice and summary justice? The University at the forefront of the Salem Witch trails?
    Seems their sanctimonious treatment of others has a single strand of DNA!
    Or in light of their last four years, rooted in mRNA.
  • Trotsky Lives!
    commented 2023-09-16 14:58:57 +1000
    Whatever happened to “veritas”?