Student survey: University of Texas-Austin among worst environments for free speech on campus, Texas A&M among best

By Bethany Blankley

A survey conducted among 20,000 students nationwide found that the University of Texas at Austin has the among worst environments for free speech on campus, compared to Texas A&M, which has among the best.

In the first-of-its-kind student survey commissioned by RealClearEducation and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), 55 colleges and universities were ranked according to how open and tolerant students say they are, among other criteria. The report includes numerous student testimonials about their experiences on campus.

“A university should be a lively marketplace of ideas – a place where different beliefs and opinions can be discussed, analyzed, and challenged with widest possible freedom,” Nathan Harden, editor of RealClearEducation, said in a statement.

“If students don’t feel free to speak their minds, or if they aren’t exposed to diverse points of view, it greatly diminishes the value of their education,” he added. “Now more than ever, students and parents need help identifying colleges and universities that foster thoughtful examination of the most pressing issues facing society, from the state of race relations in America to the freedom of religion and association.”

At the University of Texas-Austin, which finished 54th of 55, both liberal and conservative students rated the school poorly for its perceived intolerance of free speech on campus.

One student from the Class of 2022 said, "It’s mostly just the overwhelming liberal climate of UT, and as someone who is a Libertarian, I constantly feel like most of my viewpoints aren’t welcome, especially in the classroom. Last semester, one of my professors declared that his class was a ‘gun free zone’ even though it was completely lawful for someone with a conceal carry license to have their pistol in the classroom.

“I wanted to say something about it - that he couldn’t actually enforce that rule and that it would actually do nothing to save lives because criminals that are set on hurting others do not give a damn about laws. I wanted to express my distaste for gun-free zones, but after reading the room, I knew I was the only one in the classroom with that sort of opinion and that everyone, especially the professor, would have a bad first impression of me."

Texas A&M ranked third best in the national survey among students for free speech on campus. Despite its high ranking, students replied to the survey with mostly negative comments.

One student from the Class of 2020 said, "My biology professor began a rant in the middle of class about how people who are pro-life are racist, immoral and wrong. She began talking about abortion from a biological standpoint but soon moved to bashing Christians and anyone who claimed to be pro-life. One girl tried to object about the pro-life side and she tore her to pieces, making the girl cry in the middle of class. I personally am pro-life, but even so it was completely out of our discussion realm, and felt like the professor was abusing her power as the person in charge to force us to listen to what she had to say, without listening for any sort of opposition."

In a separate FIRE annual report, 28 Texas institutions were analyzed. Among them, Texas A&M was the only school to receive the highest ranking of green light, indicating the school’s policies do not seriously imperil speech.

The University of Texas at Austin, Arlington, and Dallas campuses, Rice University and the University of Houston, all received red light rankings, indicating their policies seriously imperil speech.

The report evaluated two types of speech-related policies: advertised commitments to free expression and restrictions on expressive rights. They include restrictions on expressive rights according to school harassment policies, policies on tolerance, respect, and civility, policies on ‘bias’ and ‘hate speech,’ bullying policies, protest and demonstration policies, posting policies and Internet usage policies.

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