Ivy League overrepresented among worst colleges for free speech, far-left law schools

Nearly four in five law schools rated liberal by law student magazine. Seven of nine Ivy League schools ranked in bottom 50 schools for free speech, including dead-last Columbia.

Published: September 14, 2022 6:02pm

Updated: September 15, 2022 11:51pm

Universities with the worst environments for student free speech and open inquiry also have far-left law schools, according to new rankings separately released by a free speech group and a magazine for law students.

Only one Ivy League school, Dartmouth, made the top half in the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression's campus "speech climate" review. Columbia ranked dead last among 203 ranked schools, alone earning the label "abysmal," and another six made the bottom 50: University of Pennsylvania (202), Yale (198), Harvard (170), Princeton (169), Barnard (167) and Cornell (154).

The private University of Chicago topped FIRE's list for the second time in three years. The next four are public: Kansas State, Purdue, Mississippi State and Oklahoma State.

FIRE said it revised and expanded the data it uses to make rankings this year. It introduced "mean tolerance" and "tolerance difference" to account for "ideologically homogeneous" campuses whose tolerance is surface-level, and incorporated its databases for "scholars under fire" and "campus disinvitations" that measure administrative behavior.

Harvard illustrates its ranking with Title IX training that warns undergraduates they can be punished for "abuse" such as "using the wrong pronouns," giving someone the "silent" treatment, embarrassing them or "withholding affection," according to materials reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Cornell and Penn also have "very liberal" law schools, according to rankings by The National Jurist for its back-to-school issue. 

It classified 193 law schools according to six categories from "most conservative" to "most liberal" (including three degrees of "liberal"). The magazine used a Princeton Review student survey, two studies of the political ideologies of alumni and professors, and "anecdotal evidence" to decide rankings.

The 16 law schools on the "most liberal" list include three in D.C.: American, George Washington University and historically black Howard. Another six are West Coast, including University of California Berkeley, University of Oregon and the Jesuit Seattle University. 

George Mason University near D.C. is one of 14 "conservative" law schools and "is the most conservative faculty in the U.S.," according to the magazine. Only four schools are "most conservative," all religious: Ave Maria, Brigham Young, Liberty and Regent.

The ideological representation of law schools is the inverse of the U.S. population, National Jurist said. Nearly four in five law schools are liberal, contrasted with a quarter of Americans, followed by moderate (11% and 35%) and conservative (9% and 36%). 

The percentages closely match those from a new survey of law professors from the top 50 law schools: 9% conservative, 78% liberal. GWU law professor Jonathan Turley, whose institution is ranked 170th on FIRE's list, told The College Fix he blames decades of "attrition and hiring practices" for the stark imbalance.

Turley recently claimed that conservative and libertarian law students have already visited his office in the new academic year "asking if I thought they could speak freely in other classes without being penalized by professors," a question "I never heard from students until the last few years."

This reinforces the findings from a new student survey across the University of North Carolina System that found 42% of conservatives, contrasted with 7% of liberals, worry about their professor's views affecting their grades, Turley said. Conservatives were also twice as likely as liberals to worry about sharing their views with fellow students.

GWU's "most liberal" designation alarmed Turley's colleague John Banzhaf, known for speaking against campus censorship such as GWU's threat to punish students who posted anti-Chinese Communist Party posters.

Banzhaf shared with Just the News an email he wrote to GWU law colleagues, pointing to Turley's observations and the UNC System survey.

"This is a frightening development, especially among those who are about to become lawyers, since lawyers are routinely called upon [to] speak up on behalf of unpopular clients and causes, and to stand up to angry judges and threatening opposing counsel," he wrote.

Law faculty should not wait for "actual evidence that any student has been penalized" to have a "meaningful discussion" about the palpable fear of Turley's students, Banzhaf said. He reminded colleagues he proposed a switch to anonymous grading many years ago to prevent faculty from penalizing students for their views.

About 43% of the law schools in the magazine's rankings are associated with universities ranked by FIRE. Asked why American University was missing, Sean Stevens, FIRE senior research fellow for polling and analytics, told Just the News that its survey partner College Pulse had too few students at certain schools "to be feasible to survey them."

Among those that show up in both rankings, three of the most liberal, 15 of the very liberal and 13 of the liberal law schools are "below average" or worse in FIRE's ranking. Only that middle category has schools worse than below average: the "abysmal" Columbia, the "very poor" Penn and "poor" Georgetown (200), Yale, Northwestern (197) and University of Washington (188).

The most common FIRE category among National Jurist's law schools is "average." Five among the most liberal meet that designation, 15 among the very liberal, and 14 liberal. 

The above-average category includes only the University of Colorado among the most liberal, four very-liberal schools (including the University of Maryland), and 11 liberal schools (including the College of William and Mary).

Banzhaf blames "the unwillingness (cowardliness?) of faculty to speak up and speak out in defense of free speech and academic freedom when it is violated" for hostility to free speech on campus, he wrote to Just the News.

"If law professors don't speak up forcefully when a state school violates free speech in a way which clearly violates the Constitution, it suggests to administrators, faculty, and students that the conduct is acceptable and OK," Banzhaf said.

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