Boston College earned the lowest possible rating for campus free speech policies in a new report by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), a free speech and expression advocacy group.
Of the 489 schools that FIRE assessed, 20 percent earned the lowest possible rating—a “red-light,” as they refer to it—which indicates at least one policy or code that clearly restricts free speech or expression.
“A ‘clear’ restriction is one that unambiguously infringes on what is, or should be, protected expression,” FIRE’s website reads. “In other words, the threat to free speech at a red light institution is obvious on the face of the policy and does not depend on how the policy is applied.”
The most common reason for a school to receive a “red-light” rating is a lack of clarity in free speech policies, according to the report.
“The main contributor to the red light ratings? Schools maintaining overbroad policies on harassment that put protected speech at risk,” the report reads.
According to FIRE, the restricted speech codes often include policies surrounding harassment and bullying, civility, bias reporting, protest and demonstrations, technology usage, and posting and distribution.
“Most campuses have some form of a ‘bias incident’ reporting system: a mechanism for reporting speech or conduct motivated by bias toward a particular characteristic,” the report said. “While some of these policies exist only to support those impacted by such incidents, most impose vague consequences on those who engage in what is often constitutionally protected expression.”
FIRE declared BC a “red-light” school with regard to internet usage policies, a “yellow-light” for the University’s policies on sexual misconduct, flyer distribution, student demonstrations, discriminatory harassment, and bias motivated incidents.
The University earned a “green-light” for its Title IX harassment policy and student code of conduct.
In addition to the speech codes ranking, FIRE and College Pulse recently published their “2024 College Free Speech Rankings,” in which FIRE conducted student surveys to assess the quality of free speech at 254 colleges. BC placed 229th out of 248 colleges.
This is not the first time BC ranked among the lowest in FIRE’s free speech rankings—the University was 151st out of 154 schools in 2021.
Several of the anonymous survey respondents from BC expressed concerns about being shamed or censored by others on campus for their political views.
“I felt as though I couldn’t express my own political views in class due to a professor saying I’m wrong and giving me a bad grade on a paper,” one student said in the report.