Ray Carter | September 6, 2023
Silencing is ‘prevalent’: OU fares poorly on free-speech ranking
A new report that rates schools based on student perception of campus free speech ranks the University of Oklahoma lowest among the state’s three major universities.
The 2024 College Free Speech Rankings, a product of College Pulse and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), is a comprehensive comparison of student experience of free speech on their campuses. The report’s rankings are based on feedback from around 55,000 currently enrolled students at more than 250 colleges.
The report included three major Oklahoma colleges: the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Tulsa.
Oklahoma State University fared best in the report, ranking 48th out of 248 schools reviewed for support of free speech.
The University of Tulsa ranked 76th.
The University of Oklahoma trailed far behind the other two state schools, ranking 134th overall.
OU ranked even lower in some subcategories on the report, including 217th in students’ estimation of how comfortable they are expressing their thoughts in writing, in class, and among peers and professors. And OU ranked 243rd in “openness,” a measure of students’ perceived ability to have conversations about difficult topics on campus.
In addition to a large gap in student perceptions of their school’s support for free speech, OSU and OU were also separated by the ideological leanings of students on campus.
For every one conservative student, there are roughly 1.5 liberal students at OU, according to the report.
But at OSU, the survey found almost the opposite with 1.4 conservative students for every one liberal student.
“Pretty much every day I have to suppress my thoughts on issues, even though my political ideas are not extreme. Cancel culture and silencing are prevalent at OU.” —Student in the OU class of 2024
Of the 248 schools ranked in the report, conservative students outnumbered liberal students at just 15 universities. (Students from four other private universities were surveyed for the report, but those four schools were not included in the overall rankings and were placed in a separate category.)
The report included anonymous comments from students who took the FIRE survey. At OU, many students appeared to reference a campus culture that is hostile to conservatives.
“I’m very concerned about sharing my political beliefs with other students on campus due to political tensions,” said one OU Class of 2023 student. “I recently was talking to a lab mate and could not express my views on reproductive rights due to how emotionally charged her responses were.”
“The current political climate generates a vocal public opinion on one side of the spectrum and a silent set of beliefs on the other,” said an OU Class of 2025 student.
One member of the OU Class of 2024 reported, “As a Republican on campus it is rare that I can voice any sort of opinion without being judged right away. Even just saying I’m a Republican would cause others to not like me as much.”
“Pretty much every day I have to suppress my thoughts on issues, even though my political ideas are not extreme,” reported another OU Class of 2024 student. “Cancel culture and silencing are prevalent at OU.”
While OSU was generally ranked much better on free-speech support and ranked as having a conservative-leaning student body, some survey respondents indicated that hostility to conservatives and/or Republicans also occurs in Stillwater.
“A government class I took recently went well out of its way to slander Donald Trump in a very unprofessional, one-sided, and discriminatory fashion,” reported one OSU Class of 2024 student. “I did not vote for the man, but if I had voiced my concern at the obvious bias I feared for my education.”
“I am a hunter, and I was exposing the sustainability of hunting and how it relates to species conservation and I kept getting weird looks and glares so I stopped talking about it cuz I didn’t want them to make assumptions about me,” wrote one OSU Class of 2024 student.
Several universities in neighboring states fared better in the free-speech ranking than their Oklahoma counterparts. Texas A&M University ranked seventh overall, the University of Colorado at Boulder ranked 10th, the University of Missouri at St. Louis ranked 17th, Kansas State University ranked 18th, Arkansas State University ranked 35th, the University of Texas at El Paso ranked 37th, the University of Texas at Arlington ranked 38th, Texas Tech University ranked 40th, and the Colorado School of Mines ranked 44th.
[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]
Director, Center for Independent Journalism
Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.