Loyola ranked one of top 10 worst colleges for freedom of expression by free speech organization

Jacqueline Galli, Editor in Chief

Loyola University has made The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression’s top 10 worst U.S. colleges for freedom of speech this year.

The foundation cites sanctions against a Loyola professor and suppression of a student’s speech on campus as reasons for the ranking. The list came out prior to the attempted punishment of a Maroon reporter by student conduct. In response to that incident, FIRE staff speaker for the student press counsel Lindsie Rank told The Maroon that it was a part of a pattern at Loyola that proves “its promises of expressive freedoms are empty.”

Economic professor’s dispute with the university

Back in 2021, according to FIRE, the sanctions against economics professor Walter Block began with required diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

“Loyola determined various comments Block made in his Intermediate Microeconomics course — including his use of the word ‘Oriental,’ his teaching of the ‘marital asymmetry hypothesis’ as an explanation for the gender wage gap, and his reference to slave owners in a discussion about authoritarianism — had created a hostile learning environment,” FIRE said.

Following continued complaints, FIRE said the university went on to “threaten” Block with classroom monitoring and termination.

Where FIRE took particular issue was the reintroduction of complaints filed against Block in 2020 during a 2021 investigation, according to their article.

In 2020, a student-led petition to fire Block had been created and garnered over 500 signatures. Despite the backlash, Loyola defended Block and his speech. However, FIRE said three student complaints filed against Block leading up to the petition were brought up again by the university much later, seemingly reversing their previous position.

“Loyola’s ongoing investigation of the vague complaints filed in June 2020 — which seem to involve substantially the same speech Loyola already deemed protected by its academic freedom policies — is especially egregious,” FIRE said.

Student prevented from distributing protest flyers

In the top 10 article, FIRE also cites the university’s prevention of Elena Voisin, a Loyola Pre-Health senior at the time, from handing out flyers for a pro-choice protest in September of 2022.

Voisin was told to stop handing out the flyers by Ken Weber, Loyola’s associate director of Student Life and Ministry, because the flyers were not in line with the school’s Jesuit values by featuring the word “abortion,” Voisin said.

Voisin said they complied and began to then verbally tell students about the march, which is when they were approached by two Loyola university police members who told them to stop.

According to Patricia Murret, Loyola’s associate director of public affairs, the Loyola University Police Department was called in response to Voisin raising their voice and causing a disturbance on campus.

Voisin said that they were not doing anything that could be considered disruptive.

University Vice President of Marketing and Communications, Rachel Hoormann, said that Voisin could not pass out the flyers because they were not given approval by Student Life and Ministry.

The Student Organization Handbook defines passing out flyers on campus from an outside organization as solicitation, which is restricted to only pre-approved content.

Where FIRE took issue with the university’s response to Voisin was in the changing rationale behind their prevention of her flyer distribution. FIRE also took issue with the broad classification of solicitation by Loyola, which they say is “ripe for abuse.”

According to the student code of conduct, solicitation is “any activity that seeks to make contact with students, faculty, and/or staff to collect information, sell items, or gain support.”

In response to this definition, FIRE said in a letter to Loyola that “in requiring on-campus student groups to submit such a wide range of expressive activities for pre-approval — even attempts to simply ‘gain support’ or petition for a cause — Loyola erects against a wide array of students’ expressive conduct a significant prior restraint — which are ‘the most serious and least tolerable infringement’ of free speech.”

Freedom of expression at Loyola

Despite concerns raised by FIRE, freedom of speech is something Loyola expressly upholds within the code of conduct.

Loyola’s Code of Conduct states that “students and student organizations are free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them.” It also states that freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are principles which Loyola upholds and reaffirms, which includes the right to dissent and demonstrate in “a peaceful and non-disruptive manner.”

After hearing that Loyola was ranked by FIRE as one of the top ten worst colleges for free speech, Voisin said they agreed.

“You have to have a priest determine what you can and can’t flier or distribute on campus,” they said. “If I were in charge, I think [Loyola] should rewrite their student handbook.”

A university spokesperson said that in both of these cases, Loyola acted in accordance with its policies as well as state and federal law. As a private institution, the university is committed to promoting free speech in alignment with its institutional values, the spokesperson said.

Block did not respond for comment.