FIRE lists UF among worst colleges for free speech

University of Florida
University of Florida

After U.S. News & World Report named the University of Florida one of the top five public universities in the country last year, UF has made a less flattering list.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a watchdog group monitoring free speech on college campuses, placed UF on its 11th edition of the “10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech” for the first time. According to the release, FIRE has named 80 institutions in 33 states for actively working to shut down student and faculty speech rights.

“There is no scientific formula for compiling the list, but one thing FIRE looks for is especially egregious acts of censorship,” said Aaron Terr, FIRE’s Program Officer for Individual Rights Defense Program and Public Records, in an email reply to Mainstreet Daily News. “UF took the extraordinary step of barring multiple professors from giving expert testimony in a voting rights lawsuit against the state merely because the testimony might be ‘adverse to UF’s interests.’”

Even though UF subsequently reversed the decision under public pressure, the incident—which is still being litigated—was enough to put UF in FIRE’s crosshairs.

“UF’s actions violated the professors’ First Amendment right to speak as citizens on public issues, contradicted its own stated interest in faculty sharing their knowledge and expertise outside of academia, and undermined the ability of our judicial system to decide issues of substantial public importance,” Terr said.

According to the FIRE release, this year’s list includes other colleges guilty of many forms of censorship, including suspending a student group for passing out stickers critical of China’s government, firing a Jewish professor for calling out the college president’s remark about “Jewish noses,” punishing a student for sending a satirical email and using a former professor’s bogus lawsuit threat as a justification to censor (and then seize control of) the student newspaper.

The 10 Worst Colleges for Free Speech, in alphabetical order, are:

  • Boise State University (Boise, Idaho)
  • Collin College (McKinney, Texas)
  • Emerson College (Boston, Mass.)
  • Georgetown University (Washington, D.C.)
  • Linfield University (McMinnville, Ore.)
  • Stanford University (Stanford, Calif.)
  • Tarleton State University (Stephenville, Texas)
  • University of Florida (Gainesville, Fla.)
  • University of Illinois Chicago (Chicago, Ill.)
  • University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

“Each of these colleges had the opportunity to restore the student and faculty voices they censored — but leaders deliberately chose not to do so,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE president and CEO, in the organization’s release announcing the list. “We don’t back down. If college leadership is willing to muzzle, censor, and punish their own students and faculty members, the public should know. And prospective students and faculty applicants should take notice of which colleges will go to outrageous lengths to silence their voices. FIRE will continue to advocate for free expression at these campuses and campuses across the country.”

When approached by Mainstreet Daily News, the UF Communications Department declined to comment on FIRE’s listing. 

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