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UNH 3rd in Free Speech Rankings While Dartmouth Among America’s Worst

Granite State college students enjoy greater freedom of speech at the University of New Hampshire than their peers at the prestigious Ivy League school, Dartmouth College.

The annual college rankings released this week by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, or FIRE, puts UNH third nationally, trailing only Michigan Tech and Auburn.

UNH President James W. “Jim” Dean Jr. said the school takes its responsibility to foster speech seriously.

“Free speech is one of the most fundamental American constitutional rights. As a public university, UNH protects and promotes this value by ensuring our students can be exposed to new and different ideas that will hopefully inspire growth and intellectual curiosity,” Dean said. “This new report from FIRE validates the work we have done and will continue to do to foster an environment where free speech can flourish.”

Meanwhile, Dartmouth, one of the most exclusive — and expensive — colleges in America, ranks near the bottom: 240 out of 248.

That’s a major drop-off for Dartmouth, which came in at 63 in 2021 and 83 in 2022.

According to data compiled by FIRE, a big reason behind that wide gap is UNH students don’t think it is acceptable to shut down controversial speakers, while Dartmouth students are OK with censorship.

FIRE’s Director of Polling and Analytics, Sean Stevens, said students at elite schools like Dartmouth, Harvard University (248), Northwestern (242), and Georgetown (245) are more inclined to prevent speakers they don’t like from being heard on campus The common denominator is those schools are predominately liberal

“There’s this elite culture to be tolerant, but most of those schools do poorly on the disruptive conduct survey,” Stevens said. 

As part of the review process, students were surveyed about how comfortable they felt speaking about controversial topics on campus and in class. They were also asked if shutting down speakers through protest, disruption, or even violence was ever acceptable.

“As you get more and more liberal on the spectrum (the students) are more likely to say those things are at least rarely acceptable,” Stevens said.

One of the findings: Many college students think shouting down a speaker is acceptable behavior, even at schools that rank highly. At UNH, just 44 percent of students said shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is always unacceptable. 

At Dartmouth, however, that dropped to 26 percent, meaning most students believe in stopping speakers they don’t like. That comes as no surprise to center-right students at Dartmouth. 

Last year, conservative journalist Andy Ngo’s scheduled in-person appearance at Dartmouth was canceled after a deluge of online threats from leftwing opponents. In 2020, more leftist threats of violence forced the cancellation of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Corky Messner’s scheduled speech on the need for border security to halt the flow of opioids into the U.S.

Stevens cited the Ngo and Messner events as reasons for Dartmouth’s poor ranking.

“They can’t undo the disinvitations, but they can do better,” Stevens said.

In contrast, UNH stood by a controversial group over objections from liberal students, Stevens said. In March, students staged a walkout after the Christian Legal Society student group planned a vigil for victims of a Tennessee school shooting. UNH liberal activists accused the Christian group of engaging in anti-transgender hate. The Tennessee shooter identified as transgender.

UNH also announced Wednesday that Dean is retiring as president on June 30, 2024.

UNH Political Science Department Denies Bias in Leavitt Snub

University of New Hampshire College Democrats seem to be getting help with turnout for their events from the school’s political science department, though its chair denies any bias. 

When the UNH Political Science Department sent out a notice informing students of an upcoming Get Out the Vote rally featuring Democrats Sen. Maggie Hassan and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, College Republican President Carson Hansford took exception.

“I was shocked when I saw the notice,” Hansford said.

The department regularly sends students notices about events on campus featuring political figures. The notices typically state they are not endorsements of any political side, and the department does not sponsor the events in any way. But Hansford said institutional bias seems to be at work.

Last spring, the College Republicans hosted GOP congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt as part of her “Wake up Gen Z College Tour.” Hansford sent an email about the event to the address for the department listed in the school’s directory. He never heard back. The department never sent a notice to students about the Leavitt appearance he said.

“I had not received an email in reply, so I had forgotten about it and had assumed that the department did not want to advertise anything that was political,” Hansford said. “Yesterday … the political science department sent an email advertising Sen. Hassan and Sen. Warren coming to campus on Friday for a GOTV (get out the vote) event, even sending out the Democrat’s link to sign up for it.”

Hansford said there is a general liberal bias on campus among students, and that he and his fellow College Republicans deal with regular snarky comments when they hold public events.

“People say to us we’re the worst thing ever, things along those lines,” Hansford said.

Jeannie Sowers

Jeannie Sowers, the department chair, told NH Journal the issue of the notices from her department is not a story, and that Hansford was wrong to speak to the media about his concerns.

“I do not appreciate students reaching out to the media and trying to create a controversy where none exists,” Sowers said.

When asked about the Leavitt event, Sowers feigned ignorance.

“I do not know who that is,” Sowers said of the GOP rising star who is facing off against Rep. Chris Pappas, D-Manchester, in next week’s closely watched election with national implications.

Sowers said the department has a rule not to send out notices about people who are merely candidates and instead focuses on sitting elected officials regardless of party.

“Sitting elected officials are more likely to get notice,” Sowers said.

Sowers faulted Hansford for not reaching out to the department with his concerns and cast doubt on whether he ever sent the department a notice about his event. She also suggested Hansford may have requested some type of sponsorship from the department for the event, which would have been against policy.

Hansford, a political science undergrad, said he did not ask for any kind of endorsement or sponsorship. As for the distinction about sitting elected officials getting priority over candidates, Hansford said the department sent out notices about Democratic presidential candidates like Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Bernie Sanders during the presidential primary season.

UNH is ranked 16th in the nation for free speech on campus by the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE), but that was down from 3rd just a year earlier.  Katelyn Regan, head of the UNH Students for Life chapter, recently told NH Journal her pro-life organization has been subject to threats and intimidation on campus, mostly from pro-abortion students.

“We have had the police called on us a bunch of times,” Regan said.

Leavitt has run into stumbling blocks on New Hampshire campuses throughout her campaign. Last summer, Southern New Hampshire University imposed restrictions on the audience for an appearance by Leavitt hosted by the campus College Republicans. The administration acknowledged it singled out Leavitt for being “controversial.”

“Our policies are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas while ensuring campus safety,” said SNHU spokesperson Siobhan Lopez.

Dartmouth Drops in Campus Free Speech Rankings — Again

Dartmouth College’s standing as a campus that supports diversity of opinion and expression fell again this year, down 20 places in the newest ranking of campus free speech from the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE).

Earlier this month, FIRE released its findings from “the largest survey on student free expression ever conducted.”

“That so many students are self-silencing and silencing each other is an indictment of campus culture,” said FIRE Senior Research Fellow Sean Stevens. “How can students develop their distinct voices and ideas in college if they’re too afraid to engage with each other?”

Or, as the report concluded, “Sayonara, debate and disagreement; hello, campus kumbaya.”

New Hampshire’s Ivy League school pulled a Gentleman’s C in last year’s ranking, coming in at number 63 in the nation. But this year, Dartmouth dropped even lower, to number 83 — below the state universities of Idaho, Indiana, and Alabama.

And while the University of New Hampshire fares far better at number 16, which was a drop from number three last year.

“The University of New Hampshire remains steadfast in its commitment to the principles of free speech and academic freedom and are pleased to know FIRE recognizes our work to protect these freedoms while encouraging openness and civility,” said Erika Mantz, executive director for UNH Media Relations.

FIRE reports college students and faculty at schools across the country face extreme challenges to the free expression of ideas.

“Alarming proportions of students self-censor, report worry or discomfort about expressing their ideas in a variety of contexts, find controversial ideas hard to discuss, show intolerance for controversial speakers, find their administrations unclear or worse regarding support for free speech, and even report that disruption of events or violence are, to some degree, acceptable tactics for shutting down the speech of others,” the report states.

Dartmouth’s administration did not respond to a request for comment, but students who anonymously reported to FIRE say the school campus is ruled by “mob mentality” and students live in ideological echo chambers. According to FIRE, for every one conservative student, there are roughly 4.3 liberal students.

“Mob mentality situations occur all the time in a small campus like Dartmouth. From minimal things to huge issues, there is a main way of thinking that if you do not conform to, you are alienated,” one student said.

Another student said they feel uncomfortable confronting the racism they experience at the school.

“I am a person of color who often has to hear White people make comments that come off as tone deaf or performative and I do not feel comfortable saying something about it,” the student said.

One student told FIRE they are unable to express their support for the nation of Israel due to fears over anti-semitism.

“Sometimes feel stigma against saying that I support Israel. People paint it as being against human rights and I’ve personally seen antisemitism attached to the subject occur on college campuses,” the student said.

According to FIRE’s report, only 27 percent of Dartmouth students say shouting down a speaker to prevent them from speaking on campus is never acceptable. At UNH, that number is 44 percent. Both represent a minority of students.

FIRE’s Vice President of Research, Adam Goldstein, said schools need to set the example early in the school year that free speech is the norm on campus.

“FIRE’s top-ranked school, the University of Chicago, starts by sending letters to incoming students explaining the value of free expression,” Goldstein said. “Reinforcing those messages through orientation programs and official policy statements makes sure the message lands. Reforming any anti-speech policies, like restrictive protest or internet use policies, will show students that the administration is walking the walk. And FIRE is ready to help with all of that.”

FIRE got involved at Dartmouth last year after allied threats of protestors shut down a planned speech by conservative speaker Andy Ngo at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth canceled the Jan. 20 event hosted by the campus chapters of the College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Network of Enlightened Women, forcing it online because of unspecified “concerning information” from the Hanover police.

However, documents obtained by both NH Journal and FIRE indicate police never thought that the planned protest presented a credible threat.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis told FIRE in a letter that his department “did not make a recommendation to Dartmouth College regarding the January 20th event.”

Dartmouth responded to the controversy by charging the Dartmouth College Republicans Club a $3,600 security bill.

Goldstein said students should know they have options to protect their speech, and that FIRE will help.

“Students who feel their rights aren’t being respected can call FIRE for help–that’s the easy answer here and it’s never the wrong answer because even if we can’t help in a specific situation, we might have some ideas about who can. But generally speaking, the first step is going to be to go to the administrator, board, or student group that’s not respecting those rights and ask them to reconsider,” he said. “Most speech restraints are created by well-intentioned people focused on something other than freedom of speech and bringing speech to their attention can go a long way.”

SNHU Restricts Audience for Leavitt Appearance, Insists on Right to Reject ‘Controversial’ Speakers

Republican congressional candidate Karoline Leavitt had a limited audience when she spoke at Southern New Hampshire University after school administrators ordered the event to be limited to students only.

Ky Urban, president of the SNHU College Republican Club, said he first learned about the policy to limit or exclude what the school deems “controversial” speakers when he asked about hosting an event featuring the First Congressional District GOP candidate.

“We were just hoping to line up our speakers for the next academic year. We would like to bring candidates, politicians, and people who lecture on topics that are of interest to conservatives,” Urban said. “We were first made aware of this ‘controversial speakers’ policy when we were trying to host Karoline Leavitt who is running for U.S. Congress in CD-1. The administration eventually let us host an event with her. But they limited it to SNHU students only, which reduced the number of people who could attend,” Urban said.

Urban was told that the university must substantively review and approve all proposed speakers to ensure they “are not so controversial that they would draw unwanted demonstrators” to campus. The university explained it “invite[s] discussion as long as it is friendly.”

Rather than allowing the general public to attend, as is commonly the practice for speakers of public interest, the campus GOP was ordered to limit the invitation to students only. As a result, the administration has the power to restrict who is allowed to speak on campus and who is allowed to hear them.

Leavitt blamed the liberal culture in higher education that seeks to minimize or silence conservative voices.

“All across America, college campuses are silencing conservatives for fear of backlash from their overwhelming liberal student body. To prevent outcry from their students, college administrations have devised various ways to ensure their monolithic brainwashing programs operate free of dissension. The only way we will disrupt their indoctrination of our youth is by challenging the status quo, which I will continue to do when given the opportunity,” Leavitt said.

The policy of reviewing invited speakers caught the attention of free-speech organization, FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression — which has criticized the school and demanded it change its practices.

“When university officials determine which views are worth sharing, as SNHU administrators claim the authority to do here, students and faculty will invite fewer speakers to campus. In turn, fewer controversial and non-controversial speakers will come, and fewer viewpoints will be shared, all to the detriment of the campus community,” said FIRE’s Sabrina Conza.

SNHU’s Siobhan Lopez, assistant director of media relations, said the school is committed to the free exchange of ideas, so long as there is order on campus.

“Southern New Hampshire University seeks to promote and facilitate the exchange of innovative and diverse ideas, and we welcome speakers with a broad range of viewpoints and backgrounds to foster a diverse and rich educational experience for members of the university community. Our policies are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas while ensuring campus safety,” Lopez said.

Urban said the way the policy is enforced targets conservatives. He was told by one administrator that former President Donald Trump would not be allowed to speak on campus for being too controversial.

“We are not aware of any specific criteria regarding which speakers are considered acceptable under SNHU’s controversial speakers policy. However, vague language typically allows administrators to enact policies that are not above board and makes excuses after the fact,” Urban said.

Events with invited speakers are vital to college clubs, which use them to recruit new members. Urban said having the audience limited when a speaker is deemed too controversial is a setback for clubs like his.

“This policy has severely harmed our club because we are not able to bring speakers that will draw a large crowd. Normally, exciting speaking events are a highlight for conservative college clubs and help to increase membership,” Urban said.

The events also bring diverse ideas to the campus, which tends to ideologically skew left, according to Urban.

“They also help to bring diverse views to campus, since liberal arts colleges tend to skew to the left with regard to the speakers they bring and what is taught in the classroom. We ask that SNHU uphold their commitment to freedom of expression on campus,” Urban said.

CONZA: SNHU Is Failing Its Free Speech Pledge

Imagine if the government could silence you before you have a chance to speak because officials think someone might be offended or resort to disruption or violence. It might sound insane that others’ potential feelings or actions mean you have to shut up, but that’s the reality for students at a university here in the Granite State.

Southern New Hampshire University mandates that student groups run all invited speakers by university administrators to weed out those who may cause controversy. The administration gives itself sole discretion to turn down speakers who may “draw unwanted demonstrations” to campus. 

The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, where I work, is demanding that SNHU rescind this requirement because it prevents members of the campus community from freely expressing themselves and from engaging with speakers that the university bans.

To be clear, SNHU is a private school not required to promise students free expression. But when colleges do make those promises by way of university policy—as SNHU does—they must live up to them. When students invite speakers to campus, their association with the speaker constitutes expression. When universities create viewpoint and content-based barriers for students to invite speakers to campus, they restrict students’ rights to free expression, breaking promises made to students who choose to enroll.

SNHU cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth, guaranteeing respect for students’ expressive rights while obstructing those same rights when speech is contentious. However, that’s exactly what administrators did. Their response to FIRE claims the university “seeks to promote and facilitate the exchange of innovative and diverse ideas,” but states the university is “confident” that its policies don’t violate the law or infringe the free flow of ideas. As we told SNHU in response, “expression is not free when authorities must approve of the speakers and viewpoints expressed.”

When institutions shut down free speech, they encourage detractors to disrupt campus in the future, because they know it has worked in the past. This concept is known as the “heckler’s veto” — a form of mob censorship in which officials shut down expression due to actual disruption or the threat of disruption. 

Of course, SNHU must balance free speech with safety. Shouldn’t a university punish those who react to speech with violence and misconduct rather than those who seek to speak peacefully? That is precisely the problem with SNHU’s required review of invited speakers. It cannot unilaterally block broad swaths of political speech under the guise that allowing the speech would sacrifice campus safety. Expression and the free flow of ideas must be encouraged on campus—not restricted.

FIRE rated four New Hampshire universities based on the extent to which their policies restrict students’ right to free expression: Keene State College, Plymouth State College, University of New Hampshire, and Dartmouth College. The rated public schools all earn FIRE’s highest “green light” for free speech. However, Dartmouth—which has faced FIRE’s ire recently for shutting down a student group’s event—earned a “yellow light” rating, meaning it has at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. Good policies are the first step to ensuring students may speak freely on campus—a goal all universities should strive to achieve.

SNHU must bring its policies in line with its strong commitment to students’ expressive rights. It should do that not only when legally required to do so, but also because it’s morally obligated to promote a culture of free expression on campus. That’s the beauty of free speech: Speakers whose views may not be commonplace can share their opinions with others and learn from each other without fear of being silenced.

FIRE stands ready to help SNHU, and all other speech-restrictive institutions, bring its policies in line with its commitment to free expression. Officials must stop acting as if free speech hinders a community. Instead, they must acknowledge that it strengthens a community by allowing its members to freely exchange ideas, both controversial and popular, and by allowing those from different backgrounds to gather to learn from one another’s viewpoints. 

To make this vision a reality, SNHU must end its prior review of invited speakers and the censorship that comes with it.

SNHU Under Fire Over Anti-Free Speech Policy Banning ‘Controversial’ Speakers

The free speech non-profit FIRE says Southern New Hampshire University is trying to throttle free speech on campus with its new policy of reviewing and approving all invited speakers to the school. 

When the new president of the Southern New Hampshire University College Republicans Kyle Urban asked the school how to invite conservative speakers to campus, he was told all speakers had to be vetted by the college first to ensure the invitees “are not so controversial that they would draw unwanted demonstrators to campus.” University administrators explained to Urban that the school “invite[s] discussion as long as it is friendly.”

Philadelphia-based FIRE is now involved, calling on the school to live up to its own free speech policies.

“SNHU thus betrays its own free expression promises by demanding prior review of speakers. To be clear, ‘expression is not free when authorities must approve of the speakers and viewpoints expressed,” FIRE’s Sabrina Conza wrote this week to SNHU’s Associate General Counsel Even Lowery.

According to Conza, Urban asked administrators about inviting speakers, expecting information about the mechanics of bringing people to the school to exchange ideas in public. Instead, Urban was told the school staff must “substantively” review and approve all proposed speakers before they are invited.

Conza says SNHU is now violating the promise it makes to students to protect free speech on campus.

“SNHU unequivocally promises students an environment which sustains the ‘ideals of freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought, freedom of expression, and freedom of the individual,’” Conza writes. “Having made those strong promises, the university may not lay them aside when the expression in question could lead to controversy.”

Conza wrote the approval process would only serve to prevent people from being invited by students or faculty to speak on campus, for fear of offending any group and causing protest.

“SNHU said it is ‘confident’ its ‘policies for speakers and political events on campus are compliant with both state and federal laws and allow for the free flow of information and ideas,’” Conza writes. “FIRE is far less confident.”

FIRE got involved last year after allied threats of protestors shut down a planned speech by conservative speaker Andy Ngo at Dartmouth College.

Dartmouth canceled the Jan. 20 event hosted by the campus chapters of the College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Network of Enlightened Women, forcing it online based on unspecified “concerning information” from the Hanover police.

However, documents obtained by both NH Journal and FIRE indicate police never thought the planned protest presented a credible threat.

Hanover Police Chief Charlie Dennis told FIRE in a letter that his department “did not make a recommendation to Dartmouth College regarding the January 20th event.”

Dartmouth responded to the controversy by charging the Dartmouth College Republicans Club a $3,600 security bill.

Conza said that when college administrators decide who is allowed to speak, the free exchange of ideas is harmed.  

“When university officials determine which views are worth sharing, as SNHU administrators claim the authority to do here, students and faculty will invite fewer speakers to campus. In turn, fewer controversial and non-controversial speakers will come, and fewer viewpoints will be shared, all to the detriment of the campus community. We once again urge SNHU to reverse course,” Conza wrote.

Free Speech Org to Investigate Dartmouth Cancellation of Ngo Appearance

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) tells NHJournal it has launched an investigation into Dartmouth College’s decision to shut down an appearance by conservative journalist Andy Ngo in the face of threats of violence from Antifa.

“Threats of violence are never an appropriate response to speech you oppose and must not dictate who may speak, or what may be said, on a college campus. Universities should not reward those who threaten violence by canceling controversial speakers,” said FIRE Program Officer Zach Greenberg.

The ACLU of New Hampshire, however, is choosing to remain silent.

Ngo and former Antifa activist Gabe Nadales were scheduled to discuss extremism in America Thursday night on the Hanover, N.H. campus. The event was hosted by the Dartmouth College Republicans and the conservative activists at Turning Point USA. Ngo has built a national reputation covering violent, far-Left protests, events often ignored by the mainstream media.

The college security officer told a reporter for NHJournal Ngo’s appearance was canceled, and the event would be held online, but he would not say why the change was made.

“That’s a decision above my pay grade,” the security officer said.

Dartmouth College’s Associate Vice President for Communications Diana Lawrence said the event was moved online after it became clear it could not be held safely in person.

“In light of concerning information from Hanover police regarding safety issues, similar concerns expressed by the College Republican leadership, and challenges with the student organization’s ability to staff a large public event and communicate effectively (including dissemination of the visitor policy and a prohibition on bags in the building), the college has requested that the ‘Extremism in America’ panel be moved online,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence said 94 people signed on to attend Ngo’s event virtually. There was no visible presence of protestors Thursday night. A pair of men turned away at the doors, who appeared to be in their 30s and 40s, respectively, said they were on the college campus to attend the event. They declined to answer any further questions. 

“The administration canceled the event and gave the student organizers the choice of holding a last-minute zoom meeting or nothing at all,” Ngo told InsideSources. “An event on violent extremism was threatened by violent extremists. It’s a cliche. Why did the College wait until two hours before the event to drop the ultimatum on organizers and speakers? Dartmouth College’s decision actually gives a blueprint for extremists to shut down future events.”

Several municipal police officers from Hanover and nearby Lebanon police departments were visible on the campus before the event. Hanover police declined to comment on the cancellation when contacted. On Friday morning, NH Journal was told senior Hanover police officers were in meetings and unavailable to comment.

Greenberg said FIRE plans to investigate the threats and the cancellation. He said the college needs to tell the truth about what, exactly, happened.

While we appreciate that Dartmouth’s administration has facilitated an online version of this event, initially intended to take place in person, we must remain vigilant against universities citing safety concerns as a pretext to censor unpopular expression, and must ensure that those seeking to impose a “heckler’s veto” cannot succeed in doing so,” Greenberg said. “Dartmouth must be transparent by identifying the concerns that led to the cancellation of the planned event, the steps it took to address those concerns, and why it decided that the event could not take place as planned.”

University administrators silencing speech was once an issue almost certain to inspire action by the American Civil Liberties Union. But in recent years, the one-time civil rights advocacy group has abandoned its free speech mission, the New York Times reports.

Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director at the ACLU of New Hampshire, did not respond to requests for comment.

In the days leading up to the event, members of Antifa organized a counterprotest, with some making threats to stop Ngo at all costs.

“When you enter our home you play by our rules, not yours,” the Northeast Antifa social media account posted. “New England is anti-fascists, and we will hold that line till death.”