University ranks No. 135 on College Pulse’s 2024 College Free Speech Rankings

| Contributing Writer

Washington University ranked No. 135 in College Pulse’s 2024 College Free Speech Rankings amongst 248 ranked colleges. The university received a score of 45.26 out of 100 points, leading its speech climate to be categorized as average.

College Pulse measures free speech using a survey that assesses 13 components related to how students perceive their schools’ speech climates, as well as how they believe administrators and students respond to free expression on campus. Such components include “Comfort Expressing Ideas,” “Tolerance for Liberal Speakers,” and “Tolerance for Conservative Speakers.”

Schools could receive bonus points on their survey scores if they supported speakers and scholars whose speech rights may be threatened during a free expression controversy. On the contrary, they could be penalized for sanctioning scholars or disinviting a speaker on campus.

263 WashU students took part in the survey between Jan. 13, 2023 to June 30, 2023 for the 2024 College Pulse Free Speech Rankings. In last year’s list, the University ranked No. 99.

According to Nathaniel Hope, President of Washington University College Republicans, free speech is an issue that students at Washington University should pay attention to.

“This is the rankings drop WashU kids should be concerned about,” Hope said. 

A major aspect of free speech on campus is how comfortable students feel expressing their beliefs in class discussions, papers, and more. According to Hope, a student’s perception of their free speech in classes can depend on the type of classes they take.

“Politics doesn’t really come up too much in my [STEM] classes, but I do know that for many students on campus, particularly those in [Washington University College Republicans], it is an issue about whether I self censor or express my opinion,” Hope said. 

Robert Burch, President of the Washington University College Democrats, said that people often conflate feeling discomfort in expressing their opinions with their speech being restricted.

“I do think that there’s kind of a misunderstanding on the issue of free speech [on] college campuses,” Burch said. “Free speech is more about your ability to say what you believe, without fear of punishment from the University or the government. It’s not the same thing as not saying your beliefs because you’re afraid of social backlash.” 

The impact of the 2024 College Pulse Free Speech Rankings on future students’ decisions to attend Washington University is unknown. Burch said that the University’s “average” free speech score would not have deterred him from enrolling at the University.

“I think there are bigger factors at play for students [deciding] to come to WashU [than a survey of student opinions on free speech],” he said.

The University has initiatives in place to promote free expression on campus, such as the Dialogue Across Differences course. This eight-week undergraduate course explores difficult topics such as politics and identity in positive ways.

Hope said that Dialogue Across Differences is “a step in the right direction.”

Earlier in the year, Chancellor Andrew Martin also addressed the importance of free speech during convocation for the Class of 2027. 

“I believe that the highest use of free speech is to search for the truth,” Martin said. “If we’re afraid to ask questions about history, or identity, or anything else, our work no longer serves our mission, as described by our motto, ‘per veritatem vis,’ or strength through truth.”

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