Watchdog names Hamline worst school for free speech

Hamline University topped this year’s list after it refused to renew a professor's contract because she showed an unveiled portrait of Muhammad during a lesson on Islamic art.

Hamline University/Facebook

(Daily Caller News Foundation) — A free speech watchdog group Thursday morning named several prominent colleges and universities to its list of the top ten worst colleges in the country for freedom of speech based on specific times the institutions reportedly violated students’ and professors’ rights.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) named Hamline University, Collin College, Emerson University, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Loyola University New Orleans (NOLA), Texas A&M, Pennsylvania State University, Emporia State University, Tennessee Tech University and the University of Oregon as the worst institutions for free speech in its 12th annual report, shared with the Daily Caller News Foundation. The report detailed the worst cases of censorship the watchdog faced at higher education institutions in 2022. 

“When students and faculty choose to join a campus community that promises free expression, they expect to have basic rights and to be treated fairly if they’re accused of doing something wrong. FIRE’s been in business for more than 20 years because that doesn’t always happen,” Alex Morey, FIRE director of campus rights advocacy, told the DCNF.

Georgetown University, on the other hand, was separately awarded FIRE’s Lifetime Censorship Award after it reportedly placed Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow and director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute, on suspension to conduct a 122-day investigation into a tweet he made criticizing President Joe Biden’s announcement that he would only nominate a black woman to the Supreme Court. The elite, Washington, D.C.-based school joins Yale University, Syracuse University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and DePaul University in receiving the lifetime award, which designates schools “that deserve special recognition for their commitment to censorship,” according to FIRE.

“We review more than a thousand college and university cases a year. Schools on our 10 Worst List represent the worst, most outrageous violations of student and faculty rights by administrators who’ve made clear they care more about good PR or pleasing powerful interests than their students and faculty,” Morey continued.

Hamline University topped this year’s list after it refused to renew a professor’s contract after she showed an unveiled portrait of Muhammad during a lesson on Islamic art. A school administrator originally called the professor’s use of the portrait “Islamophobic;” however the school recently walked back that claim after the professor sued for religious discrimination and defamation.

Both Tennessee Tech University (TTU) and Texas A&M University (TAMU) made the list after actions taken against on-campus drag shows. TTU investigated two student organizations for co-hosting a drag show at the school’s theater, FIRE reported, however a TTU spokesperson said that the event was considered problematic because it was open to minors.

“Unfortunately, this list is riddled with inaccuracies. Tech’s concerns related to a performance on campus last year stemmed from the presence of minors at the event,” a university spokesperson told the DCNF. “As the university president said clearly in his statement at the time, our review of our policies ‘focuses on the inappropriate involvement of minors.’”

The spokesperson said that the investigation concluded that all student organizations are able to hold on-campus events under revised guidelines that prevent minors from attending events that include live-performances.

“If the event features live performances, including, but not limited to, musical, dance, or dramatic performances, minors will not be permitted to attend, regardless of the presence of a parent or guardian,” the policy reads. “While not all performances are inherently inappropriate for minors, the unpredictable nature of live performance increases the risk to the organization and the institution.”

Minors must be accompanied by a parent or guardian at all other on-campus student organization-sponsored events, according to the new policy.

“It is disappointing that these facts were omitted from FIRE’s analysis,” the spokesperson told the DCNF.

TAMU reportedly told student organizers it would not fund a “Draggieland” event after it provided funding for the previous two years. TAMU also attempted to freeze the student-run newspaper The Battalion by ordering it to immediately cease printing physical copies of the paper and move to a digital platform.

The statement was later revised to permit the students to operate the paper through the spring semester, however FIRE filed a public records request to learn more about the university’s motives.

“We typically make repeated attempts to work with the school and get them to do the right thing,” Morey told the DCNF. “Our 10 Worst list is an annual warning that these schools lie about the rights they promise, and that prospective students and faculty should go elsewhere.”

Penn State made the list after it canceled an event by Uncensored America, a student group on campus, featuring Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes and comedian Alex Stein. The event drew a large protest on campus that reportedly escalated to threats of violence.

UPenn’s law school and Emporia State made the list after reported threats to tenure, while Loyola University NOLA and the University of Oregon both came under fire for mandatory diversity initiatives.

Loyola University NOLA required professor Walter Block to enroll in diversity training and investigated and sanctioned him for protected speech used in the classroom, according to FIRE. Block reportedly used a cotton-picking analogy during his Principles of Microeconomics class in 2021 and was reported for using the terms “Oriental” and “atta girl.”

University of Oregon reportedly requires current and potential employees to write diversity statements that outline their commitment and adherence to DEI in order to be considered for a job, a promotion or tenure.

FIRE sued Collin College in 2022 on behalf of a professor reportedly fired for advocating for the removal of confederate statues and for criticizing the school’s COVID-19 policies — which reportedly discouraged masks. FIRE also launched a months-long campaign  against Emerson College after it suspended its Turning Point USA chapter for handing out stickers on campus that read “China Kinda Sus.”

Hamline University, Collin College, Emerson University, University of Pennsylvania Law School, Loyola University New Orleans, Texas A&M, Pennsylvania State University, Emporia State University, the University of Oregon and Georgetown University did not immediately respond to the DCNF’s request for comment.


Alexa Schwerha

Alexa Schwerha is a contributor for the Daily Caller News Foundation.