How free are Arizona undergrads to express themselves?

Freedom of speech and expression aren't treated equally at Arizona's universities, according to a nonprofit specializing 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 more amiable to student speech and expression than not only its counterparts in Arizona but more than most others 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 instructed to talk about "different races and why some are treated differently" from others. Another was uneasy about expressing an opinion in one instance out of fear it might affect their grade.

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

The university saw controversy earlier this year when the school laid off Ann Atkinson, executive director of the T.W. Lewis Center for Personal Development, after she facilitated an event featuring Charlie Kirk and Dennis Prager. Representatives from FIRE said the event didn't impact their ranking because it involved an executive director, not a "scholar" by the database's definition. ASU claims the termination was due to the center's funding being pulled.

The University of Arizona placed 84th, receiving an "average" classification. The Tucson-based college scored particularly low in FIRE's "openness" category, reflecting students' opinions on how welcome they are to speak their minds about difficult topics.

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