When I first started at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), I wanted to make sure that we wouldn't just aggressively police violations of freedom of speech -- we also would credit universities that protected the First Amendment despite calls for censorship. Unfortunately, I soon learned that a school could be very good at defending the speech of one speaker while censoring a different student or faculty member the school disagreed with or simply disliked. Finding the best and most consistent schools hasn't been easy. Nonetheless, it is crucial to give credit where credit is due, so FIRE has decided, for the first time ever, to name its top colleges for free speech.
While a truly "scientific" list would be impossible, ideal schools for the list were those that earn a "green light" rating from FIRE -- meaning that their policies at least nominally protect speech that would be protected by the First Amendment--and that have not committed a serious incident of censorship (that we know about) for at least several years. (FIRE rates about 400 colleges across the country according to a system of red, yellow, and green "lights" on the basis of their speech policies, not specific cases of censorship.)
I'm sure that, as with our 12 Worst Colleges for Free Speech list from earlier this year, this list will provoke some interesting discussion. If you know of serious recent violations by any of the Lucky Seven schools, please let us know in the comments. And please feel free to nominate schools that you believe are good defenders of free speech. (I do recommend looking them up at thefire.org first. Serious cases of censorship pop up surprisingly and with shocking frequency, and there's a reason why--so far--we have only been able to name seven schools.) The Lucky Seven are listed in no particular order.