Wisco Schools Rank Low On Free Speech

It’s no secret that classical liberal values are under attack in academia. Just how bad is it at a campus near you? Well, you can find out by checking out a ranking of schools by their friendliness to free speech.

Here in Wisconsin, our two big schools are doing, well, not so good. Out of 154 schools on the list, the UW Madison ranked 104th and Marquette University ranked 153rd.

The list was constructed by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. According to its website, “FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending and sustaining the individual rights of students and faculty members at America’s colleges and universities. These rights include freedom of speech, freedom of association, due process, legal equality, religious liberty, and sanctity of conscience—the essential qualities of liberty.”

FIRE is one of our favorite organizations here at YSDA. You can find more organizations like them and other helpful stuff for moderates on our Resources page.

My alma mater scores low on free speech. The new chancellor has to do better.

The report, released in September, found some alarming trends. According to a summary, “66% of students report some level of acceptance for speaker shout-downs — up 4 percentage points from last year; 23% consider it acceptable for people to use violence to stop certain speech — up 5 percentage points from last year.”

The report also found:

  • More than 80% of students report self-censoring their viewpoints at their colleges at least some of the time, with 21% saying they censor themselves often. 
  • Generally, students showed much greater intolerance for campus speakers with conservative positions.
  • Racial inequality, abortion, and gun control top the list of most difficult subjects to discuss. 
  • Only a third of students say that their college administration makes it either very or extremely clear that they will protect free speech on campus.

That last point was driven home, in a negative way, at the UW this year. A small group of students demanded that the Frederic March Play Circle be renamed because March, for a brief period, belonged to a campus group calling itself the Ku Klux Klan. The chancellor ordered up a study, which concluded that, not only did that version of the KKK do nothing racist (nobody knows why they chose that awful name), but that March, an actor, went on to have a long record of fighting for racial justice at a time when it wasn’t fashionable. The NAACP even wrote Chancellor Rebecca Blank a letter earlier this year asking that March’s reputation be restored.

No matter. Blank, cowed by that small group of students, refused to budge. She went so far as to write an embarrassing letter to the New York Times defending the indefensible after Times columnist John McWhorter, who is Black, called her out on it. The message she sent to the campus community was clear: Get on the wrong side of even a small bunch of uninformed students with the right set of grievances (no matter how ill-conceived) and the administration most definitely will not have your back.

So, it’s fitting that Blank will leave the UW (ranked 104) next year for Northwestern (ranked 129). She’ll fit right in.

What’s going on at Marquette isn’t as clear to me. One of the things I found interesting in the rankings is that I couldn’t discern a pattern related to private or public schools, religious or not, or related to geography. Some places, famous for their wokeness, did better than the MU and the UW. Yale was number 33, Oberlin ranked 37th, Berkeley came in 83rd,

In any event, Marquette’s a private, Catholic school and it can do what it wants. But my alma mater is a public university. The UW has a lot of work to do in improving its campus environment for free speech, which, in my view, trumps any other consideration. If a university isn’t for free speech, then what on earth does it stand for?

Let’s hope the next chancellor makes this a priority.

Welcome to the 306th day of consecutive posts here at YSDA. Thanks for reading!


Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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