Texas A&M University Highly Ranked for Freedom of Speech on Campus

“If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” -- Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)

Colleges and universities, ideally, are places where one can hear, analyze, discuss and debate new and differing ideas, including controversial ones. Yet, many places of higher learning have been moving toward a system of rules and regulations that restrict speech on campus. This widespread move to limit and regulate free speech has met with scrutiny by the courts. It has also spawned a backlash from those arguing strongly for free speech on campuses and for the continued ability of faculty and students to be exposed to ideas of all types and across the political spectrum.

Count Texas A&M University among those campuses most accepting of free speech. In a recently released study, RealClear Education ranked A&M in the top three of their 2020 College Free Speech Rankings.1 These rankings are based on a survey of 19,969 college students enrolled in four-year degree programs at 55 public and private institutions across the nation. The students, who were recruited from College Pulse’s American College Student Panel, answered questions about their experiences and attitudes about free speech and expression on their college campuses. The colleges were then ranked based on the sum of five attributes:

“Openness to discuss challenging topics on campus; Tolerance for allowing controversial speakers on campus; Self-Expression, whether students have ever withheld their ideas due to how the expression would be received; Administrative Support, which is students’ perception about whether their college protects or punishes free speech; and the FIRE Speech Code Rating, which rates college policies on how they protect or restrict free speech.” – RealClear Education

In third place overall, Texas A&M fell just short of the top spot to the University of Chicago, who received first, and Kansas State University, who ranked second. Other Texas schools did not fare as well. The University of Texas at Austin ranked second-to-last at 54, while UT- Dallas was 33.

The University of Chicago has been a leader in the Free Speech Movement, issuing the “Chicago Statement,” a statement on Free Speech campus reform adopted by many other institutions, which can be summarized as:

“[T]he University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed. It is for the individual members of the University community, not for the University as an institution, to make those judgments for themselves, and to act on those judgments not by seeking to suppress speech, but by openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose.”

Free speech is a cornerstone of a free society.  Texas A&M University has not adopted the Chicago Statement, but it has adopted statements on freedom of speech such as the following:

“As a Tier I research institution, the pursuit of truth through open and robust discourse is critical to academic inquiry. As a community of scholars … the university has an aspirational expectation that such discourse will be conducted in accordance with Aggie Core Values. In this “marketplace of ideas,” we encourage civil and respectful dialogue creating an environment that allows individuals to express their ideas and to have their ideas challenged in respectful and responsible ways.”

The complete statement is available here.
1The ranking was produced by RealClear Education, a nonpartisan education news site and a subsidiary of RealClear Media Group, which was founded in 2000 as a political news and commentary site. The Free Speech Code Rating is attributed to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending the individual rights of America’s students and faculty members.

Posted: October 01, 2020 by Ashley Bullock