Texas A&M ranks 1st for free speech on campus, UT-Austin ranks worst

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(The Center Square) – Among roughly a dozen Texas colleges and universities surveyed, Texas A&M has the best environment for free speech on campus and the University of Texas-Austin has the worst, according to a recent College Pulse/FIRE 2024 College Free Speech Ranking.

Texas A&M was the only Texas college listed in the top 10 campuses for free speech nationwide, ranking seventh.

The University of Texas-Austin was the only Texas college listed in the bottom 10 of campuses for having the worst free speech environment nationwide, ranking 239.

The survey was developed by FIRE and administered by College Pulse. It was fielded from January 13, 2023, to June 30, 2023 “from College Pulse’s American College Student Panel™, which includes more than 750,000 verified undergraduate students and recent alumni from schools within a range of more than 1,500 two- and four-year colleges and universities in all 50 states.”

The findings were derived from the panel, from a sample of 55,102 undergraduates enrolled full-time in four-year degree programs at one of 254 colleges and universities in the U.S., according to the report.

The rankings are based on a composite score of 13 components. Six assess student perceptions of different aspects of their campus’s speech climate. Seven assess behavior by administrators, faculty, and students to determine the level of free expression on campus. Higher scores indicate a better campus climate for free speech and expression.

Schools were also labeled as green, yellow or red based on their scores related to speech climate on campus and stated speech code policies. Warning schools weren’t ranked and assessed separately because of their stated policies, according to the report.

Texas public colleges and universities surveyed included the University of Texas (Arlington, Austin, Dallas, El Paso and San Antonio campuses), Texas A&M, Texas Tech University, Texas State University and the University of Houston. Private colleges surveyed were Baylor University, Rice University, and Southern Methodist University.

With the majority of viewpoints at Texas A&M being liberal, Texas’ top free speech campus had an above average ranked speech code and green ranked speech climate.

Among the criteria evaluated, 51% of A&M students said shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is at least rarely acceptable; 57% said they have self-censored on campus at least once or twice a month; 53% said they are worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done.

By contrast, the University of Texas-Austin received the lowest ranking of 239 in the state. Its speech code policy was labeled yellow; its speech climate ranked poor.

Among its surveyed students, 72% said shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is at least rarely acceptable; 51% said they have self-censored on campus at least once or twice a month; 58% said they are worried about damaging their reputation because someone misunderstands something they have said or done.

For every one conservative student, there are roughly four liberal students at UT-Austin, the report notes.

Three Texas public colleges ranked slightly above average for speech climate on campus and were labeled yellow for their stated speech code policies: UT-El Paso (ranked 37), UT-Arlington (ranked 38), and Texas Tech (ranked 40).

Three ranked as average for speech climate: UT-San Antonio (49/yellow speech code), Texas State (100/yellow speech code), and UT-Dallas (114/red speech code).

Two ranked below average for speech climate: the University of Houston (157/yellow speech code) and University of North Texas (221/red speech code).

While the private schools SMU (ranked 98) and Rice (ranked 158) both have a majority viewpoint of liberal, SMU had higher free speech rankings. Its speech code was labeled yellow and speech climate average; Rice’s speech code was red and speech climate was slightly below average.

Baylor University wasn’t included in the rankings and was labeled a “warning” school because its policies “clearly and consistently state that it prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech,” the report explains.

Like Baylor, the report also labeled five other colleges nationwide as “warning schools,” which all expressly state their Christian or conservative beliefs and values. These schools’ policies “clearly and consistently … prioritizes other values over a commitment to freedom of speech,” the report states. They include Hillsdale College, Liberty University, Pepperdine University, Brigham Young University, and Saint Louis University.

According to the survey, the 10 schools with the greatest amount of free speech on campus nationwide are Michigan Technological University, Auburn University, University of New Hampshire, Oregon State University, Florida State University, University of Virginia, Texas A&M, George Mason University, University of North Carolina-Greensboro, University of Colorado-Boulder.

The 10 worst schools with the least free speech on campus nationwide were Harvard University, University of Pennsylvania, University of South Carolina, Georgetown University, Fordham University, Skidmore College, Northwestern University, Duquesne University, Dartmouth College, and the University of Texas-Austin.

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