Two Catholic universities rank near the bottom of the list of U.S. universities for free speech policies, an influential watchdog group revealed this week.
The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) listed both Georgetown University and Fordham University near the bottom of its 2023 College Free Speech Rankings, the nonprofit revealed on Wednesday.
FIRE, which began as a higher-education civil liberties watchdog but recently expanded to include off-campus advocacy of free speech rights, has been publishing the list since 2011. On Wednesday it placed Fordham at 244 of 248 colleges surveyed, with Georgetown ranking even lower, at 245.
Schools on the list are ranked overall as well as by individualized metrics. Fordham, for instance, ranked 189th in “disruptive conduct,” a measure of how acceptable students believe it is to disrupt speakers on campus with various tactics such as shouting or violence (lower rankings indicate higher levels of student acceptance of those tactics).
Georgetown ranked 246th on that metric, while also getting very low ranks in “openness,” a measure of how comfortable students feel in talking about controversial subjects on campus.
Both schools received “red light” speech code rankings from FIRE. A red rating, according to the group, indicates the institution has “at least one [policy] that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”
Students from both universities offered FIRE examples of the purported restrictive speech environments on the respective campuses.
“In many of my classes I feel like despite having the freedom to speak we have to be ‘politically correct,’” a student at Fordham said; another reported “pressure to conform on controversial topics.”
At Georgetown, meanwhile, one student reported feeling compelled to use the term “birthing person” when discussing maternal mortality rates; that term is regularly used by transgender activists to refer to women. Another reported being harassed “for expressing a typical but conservative opinion online.”
Georgetown reportedly has nearly four liberal students for every one conservative student, according to the FIRE report, with Fordham hosting a similar ratio.
Neither school responded immediately to requests for comment on the rankings, including whether they were taking any steps to remedy the alleged issues raised in the report.
FIRE in its 2023 rankings identified Harvard as the worst free speech university in America, with the school “coming in dead last with the worst score ever: 0.00 out of a possible 100.00.”
The group said Harvard’s straight-zero ranking was actually “generous” insofar as the school’s “actual score is -10.69, more than six standard deviations below the average.”
The university’s rock-bottom score was due to a number of factors, FIRE noted, including the school’s having sanctioned several of its scholars such as Lorgia García Peña, who in 2019 was denied tenure allegedly due to claims she had engaged in activist scholarship.
FIRE also cited the revocation of conservative activist Kyle Kashuv’s acceptance due to racial slurs he had written on the internet several years prior and the dis-invitation of feminist speaker Devin Buckley over her criticisms of transgender ideology.