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Number of college scholars punished for speech has skyrocketed: report

Apr 21, 2023

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According to a new report released by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), attempts to punish college and university scholars for their speech have dramatically increased over the past two decades. The report found that in the year 2000, there were just four annual sanction attempts against scholars. However, by 2022, that yearly total had jumped to 145 attempts.

“Even one attempted sanction is one too many,” said FIRE Director of Polling and Analytics Sean Stevens. “There are serious problems on American campuses when it comes to free expression and academic freedom. Schools need to recommit to implementing policies fostering campus environments that reject attempts to punish protected speech.”

Additionally, the report revealed that 509 scholars were punished for their speech in the past three years alone, which nearly matches the 571 scholars that were sanctioned in the 20 years prior. FIRE said that 52% of these came from individuals on the political Left, while 41% were made by conservatives.

“Regardless of where it’s coming from, it’s squelching, curbing, preventing, students and faculty from deeply engaging in debate about important topics,” Stevens said.

The report also found that Harvard was the school which led the country in total number of sanction attempts, while the University of Florida had the highest percentage of successful sanctions, with a rate of 90%. Nearly two-thirds of attempts resulted in sanctions being brought against the scholar, including one in five that resulted in termination. Yet, only 6% of those attempts were found to have occurred because a scholar engaged in speech meant to offend or endorse violence.

The report also highlighted that the number of efforts made to censor professors speaking out on racial issues doubled from 2019 to 2020, now accounting for more than half of all academic “cancel culture” efforts from both the Left and the Right. Other topics drawing the majority of censures recently included transgender identity, Donald Trump’s presidency and the #MeToo movement.

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