In a survey of students at 250 American colleges and universities, none of the five Connecticut institutions of higher education surveyed ranked in the top 100 for free speech.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) released the results of its annual College Free Speech Rankings survey this week. The survey asked more than 55,000 college students a number of questions to gauge how open the school is to different ideologies and forms of speech and weighted those responses to determine which schools allowed, under their criteria, the greatest amount of free expression on campus.

Among the criteria, students were asked how comfortable they felt expressing ideas in classes or in other forums on campus and whether they were concerned about responses from peers, faculty, or administrators. They were also asked to give their thoughts on whether speakers determined to be either liberal or conservative should be allowed to speak on campus, regardless of whether they agreed with them or not. Responses received a higher score if they allowed the speaker in either case.

Additional criteria, including whether students or faculty were prone to “disruptive conduct” if a student voiced a controversial opinion at odd with their own beliefs, how much the administration vocally supported free speech and expression, and whether specific issues were “difficult to have open conversations about on campus.” These topics included things like gun control, abortion, racial inequality, freedom of speech, and 16 others.

Schools could also lose points in the rankings “when an administration sanctioned a scholar, student, or student group, and when a speaker was disinvited from campus.” Sanctioning a scholar could lose a school up to five points if that scholar was fired.

The FIRE team did note that while the margin of error for polling people who were not students at the school was just +/- one point, it widened significantly when attempting to account for subcategories of students, +/- up to five points, creating a potential differential of as much as 10%. 

In Connecticut, Wesleyan University received the highest marks, though the school ranked near the middle of all schools surveyed at 115th. The school scored higher on average in comfort expressing ideas (83rd), administration support (91st), and openness (95th). It scored lower than average for disruptive conduct (158th) and tolerance for speakers (179th).

Yale University, meanwhile, came in last of the five CT schools included in the list. While the school had high scores in tolerance for speakers (30th) and openness (47th), it ranked low for disruptive conduct (200th), comfort expressing ideas (147th), and administrative support (185th). A high number of Ivy League Universities or other highly selective schools received low scores. Harvard University in Cambridge, MA ranked bottom of the list.

Also included in the list were Trinity College (166th), Connecticut College (180th), and the University of Connecticut (220th).

CII reached out to each of these schools for comment but did not hear back by press time.

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An Emmy and AP award-winning journalist, Tricia has spent more than a decade working in digital and broadcast media. She has covered everything from government corruption to science and space to entertainment...

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