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S⁠t⁠a⁠t⁠emen⁠t⁠ Release: New JMI Repor⁠t⁠ Exam⁠i⁠nes and Ranks Free Speech on Flor⁠i⁠da’s College Campuses

By: Logan Padgett / 2020

October 19, 2020
CONTACT: Logan Elizabeth Padgett


TALLAHASSEE – A new report by The James Madison Institute’s Marshall Center for Educational Options finds that the entire Florida higher education system could be “very well positioned to meet the growing demand for intellectually-serious academic study at an affordable cost.”

Entitled, “Combatting ‘Idea Suppression:’ How Florida Universities Can Continue their Rise to National Prominence,” the JMI report compiles a variety of different measures that examine how well today’s universities protect free speech, promote a campus culture open to different viewpoints, and respond to speech-bullying by those seeking to drown out viewpoints they oppose.

This report builds upon JMI’s 2017 report and measures how much progress our state universities are making in promoting free expression and viewpoint diversity and identifies “next steps” that would help Florida’s universities continue their rise to national prominence as beacons of intellectual freedom and academic excellence.

In 2008, the Florida Legislature adopted the Campus Free Speech Expression Act, which outlawed so-called “free speech zones” at any and every state university. This action alone was not enough to alter the FIRE “campus free speech” ratings of most Florida universities.

Eight of the 11 Florida universities that Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has rated consistently showed no change in status from 2017 to 2020. UCF moved from “red” to “yellow.” Conversely, the University of South Florida moved in the opposite direction from “yellow” to “red.” Only Florida State University made significant progress moving all the way from the “red light” designation to FIRE’s green light in 2020.

Six other Florida universities have improved their FIRE ratings since JMI collaborated on a similar report in 2013 – Florida Gulf Coast, Florida International, New College, North Florida, South Florida, and West Florida. Of these, UNF stands out, as it went from “red light” status to “green light” status. Nationally, only 11 percent of the 473 schools rated by FIRE receive a “green light” designation; 64% receive a “yellow light” rating and 23 percent receive a “red light” rating.

In April 2019, the presidents of 12 state universities in Florida joined State University System Chancellor Marshall Criser in issuing a statement affirming their commitment to “full and open discourse and the robust exchange of ideas and perspectives on our respective campuses.” The need for bold leadership promoting free expression in the pursuit of truth seems even greater today.

“The Florida Legislature ought to consider requiring state universities to have a ‘green light’ rating from FIRE in order to qualify for future ‘performance funding’ bonuses,” suggested report author William Mattox, who heads JMI’s Marshall Center. “Becoming an ‘all-green-light’ state ought to be the goal of our higher education system, particularly since this would help burnish Florida’s ‘brand’ as a national leader in promoting free expression and academic excellence.”


In addition, Mattox urged policymakers and university officials to work to improve the campus culture at state universities by reducing “self-censorship” and improving viewpoint diversity. “If students and professors feel that they must tiptoe around certain topics lest they ‘trigger’ someone, that is not an environment conducive to learning,” he noted. “In order for universities to fulfill their truth-seeking mission, they must be ‘inclusive’ of different perspectives — otherwise, weak ideas may never be challenged, new discoveries may never be attempted, and important insights may never be heard.”  The JMI policy brief, including each university’s score, is available at:

The James Madison Institute is a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the advancement of free markets and liberty. The Institute conducts research on such issues as criminal justice, health care, taxes, and regulatory environments.