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How free are Arizona undergraduates to speak out?  |  Arizona


(The Center Square) — Freedom of speech and expression is treated differently at Arizona universities, according to a nonprofit organization that specializes in the matter.

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, released its fourth annual college free speech rankings, showing Northern Arizona University was seen as kinder to of student speech and expression than not only its Arizona counterparts, but more so than most other universities in the country.

NAU ranked 16th overall, the highest of any college in Arizona.

But one student’s comment to FIRE noted a situation where they were asked to talk about “different races and why some are treated differently” than others. Another was embarrassed about expressing an opinion in a given case for fear it might affect his grade.

Arizona State University ranked 77th out of 254 universities. FIRE noted multiple instances of administration or faculty defending the free speech rights of a student, group of students, or speaker from 2020 to 2023.

The university faced controversy earlier this year when the school fired Ann Atkinson, executive director of the TW Lewis Center for Personal Development, after hosting an event featuring Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager. FIRE representatives said the event did not impact their rankings because it involved an executive director, not a “scholar” by the database’s definition. ASU says the termination was due to the withdrawal of funding from the center.

The University of Arizona placed 84th, receiving an “average” ranking. The Tucson-based university scored particularly low in FIRE’s “openness” category, reflecting students’ views on how they are encouraged to speak up about difficult topics.

“I don’t feel free to express my opinions on abortion due to the extreme aggressiveness of my classmates on this issue,” one student wrote.

The nonprofit organization surveyed 55,102 students from 254 colleges and universities. Students enrolled in four-year degree programs were contacted via a mobile app and web portal from January 13 to June 30.