LSU – Best in Football, One of the Worst in Free Speech

LSU – Best in Football, One of the Worst in Free Speech
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Louisiana State University’s football team went undefeated last season. The school is at the back of the pack, however, when it comes to protecting the First Amendment.

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The public university, which has just over 23,000 undergraduates, ranked 53rd out of 55 schools in a survey conducted by RealClearEducation, College Pulse, and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The 2020 Free Speech Rankings offer a comprehensive comparison of the student experience of free speech on campuses. The findings are based on a survey of approximately 20,000 currently enrolled students and are designed “to help parents and prospective students choose the right college.”

The rankings cover 17 private universities and 38 public universities. They are predicated on each school’s written policies on free speech as well as a 26-question student survey about free expression on campus.

Louisiana State University received an overall score of 47.9 on a scale of 100, roughly 16 points lower than the top-ranking school, the University of Chicago.

More than two-thirds (68%) of LSU students have felt at some point they could not express their opinion on a subject “because of how students, a professor, or the administration would respond.”

Just over a third (35%) of students at LSU believe that it is never acceptable to shout down a speaker on campus to prevent him or her from speaking. Conversely, more than half (51%) of the students at Kansas State University, No. 2 overall and the top-ranking public university on the list, believe shout-downs are never acceptable.

Although the noise generated at Tiger Stadium often surpasses 100 decibels, and once registered as an earthquake on a seismograph, LSU goes to great lengths to silence its students and its faculty members.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education gives LSU a “red light” rating, meaning it has “at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech.”

In 2015 LSU fired a tenured early-childhood education professor, Teresa Buchanan, for using coarse language and making jokes of a sexual nature in front of an undergraduate class. She lost a First Amendment lawsuit against LSU two years ago, and the Supreme Court declined to review the ruling.

“I didn't use profanity a lot, but I used it occasionally and intentionally to make a point,” wrote Buchanan in an email to RealClearEducation. Buchanan claimed her vocabulary was intended to get her students ready for the sometimes unsavory environment they would face in urban public schools.

Asked if she was surprised by LSU’s poor ranking, Buchanan responded concisely, “No, sadly, I’m not.”

Students also say they experience the suppression of First Amendment rights.

This August, several residential advisors resigned “out of concern that LSU is not adequately prepared for COVID-19,” according to FIRE, which also sponsored Buchanan’s lawsuit. According to a report, the RAs were “specifically forbidden from speaking to the media, including the on-campus newspaper, The Reveille.”

In 2017, following the death of a student possibly related to a hazing incident, LSU “unconstitutionally” censored Greek life and Jewish students, according to The College Fix. A “Week of Reflection” sheet was disseminated to student organizations, which prohibited certain activities and greatly circumscribed students’ rights to assemble and associate freely.

Rosh Hashanah, an important Jewish holiday, occurred during the Week of Reflection. The bans issued by LSU’s administration precluded Jewish students from gathering in large groups to celebrate.

“LSU is not a free-speech environment, due to the fact that the people who are in charge don’t like it when people speak out against them,” according to a female student who spoke to RealClearEducation and asked to remain anonymous. (She is applying to LSU’s graduate program and fears her statements may hinder her chances of acceptance.)

Those in charge “want their opinions to outshine the majority of what students, professors, and faculty are saying,” she said. The taxpayer-funded university is much more accepting of “Christian ideals” and conservative values, and anyone with a different belief is considered an “outsider,” the student continued.

But according to first-year psychology major Anasij’a, who asked to be identified only by his first name, some students “just don’t take advantage” of their right to free speech on campus.

“Considering one of my last visits to the Student Union I came across a Trump 2020 rally, some students actually do take advantage of the privilege more than others,” the student said.

“Although LSU promulgates free speech, the school is still known for being extremely racist and prejudiced,” Anasij’a continued. “I feel like a lot of people belonging to minority groups keep quiet when it comes to sharing their opinion because of their surroundings.”

RealClearEducation contacted LSU several times, seeking comment on the survey results, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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