Guide to Colleges Methodology

The Heterodox Academy Guide to Colleges aggregates all the information we can find on the degree to which each school is likely to be a place that welcomes diverse viewpoints and open discussion about politics and politically charged social issues. In developing the scoring method and weights, we tried to put ourselves in the place of a high school senior who is applying to colleges and who wants to avoid the “walking on eggshells” culture of fear that many students are now reporting. Where should a curious, open-minded student apply? Which schools should she avoid?

We have no way to measure campus culture directly, but we have gathered together in one place all the publicly available sources of information that will help you to make an informed guess. We converted each source into a number ranging from 0 (most inimical to viewpoint diversity) to +1 (most supportive of viewpoint diversity). We then multiplied each number by a weight (a number between 10 and 25, showing the percent of the total score represented by this component). We then added up these weighted components to create a “Heterodoxy Score” that runs from 0 to 100. Schools with high scores are the ones you should apply to if you want to maximize your odds of attending a school that welcomes intellectual diversity and dissent. A score of 50 means we can’t tell which way the school’s culture is likely to lean.

We do not count military academies because our criteria do not make sense in the context of institutions that heavily regulate behavior and speech for reasons other than political orthodoxy.

The information sources used in our guide, with their weights, are:

1. Endorsed Chicago: Whether the university has endorsed the Chicago Principles on free expression (Yes = +1, No = 0). This is not about what policies regarding free speech are on the books, the FIRE rating takes care of that. Nor is it about whether the President has said something positive about free speech in a lecture or an op-ed.

This item is about whether the faculty senate or some other official body has made a strong affirmative commitment in the last few years to protecting free speech, including the expression of very unpopular views. We would give credit for enacting a policy other than the Chicago policy if it were equally strong and unambiguous. The key point about the University of Chicago principles is that the school has stated clearly that it provides a platform for free expression upon which its members can debate; the university itself does not take sides in these debates. (We believe this is crucial to avoid the “moral dependency” that can arise in a community in which members are incentivized to strive to bring down official punishment upon their enemies.)

The Chicago score contributes a 10 point bonus if a school has endorsed these guidelines, but schools lose no points if they have not endorsed them.

2. FIRE Rating: Obtained from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

     RED: At least one policy clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech and expression. (0 points)
     WARNING: Values other than the right to free speech and expression are prioritized. (0)
     YELLOW: Policies that restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, due to vague wording, could restrict protected expression. (.25)
     GREEN: No serious threats to speech. (+1)
     UNRATED: No FIRE rating of speech policies. (.5 points)

The FIRE rating contributes 30% of the overall Heterodoxy score for each school.

3. ISI Rating: Obtained from the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) guide to Choosing the Right College 2014-15.

This is a guide aimed at conservative and libertarian students. We presume that open-minded progressive students would prefer not to attend a school at which students who are not on the left are hesitant to speak up.

     RED: Unsafe zone (0 points)
     YELLOW: Potentially unsafe (.25 points)
     GREEN: Generally safe (+1)
     UNRATED: No ISI rating (.5 points)

The ISI rating contributes 25% of the overall Heterodoxy score for each school.

4. Relevant Events Since 2014: Schools start with a rating of .5. Events on campus that indicate a commitment by faculty, administration and/or students to protect free inquiry and viewpoint diversity are labeled GREEN (+.25 each). If events indicate a restriction or punishment of dissenting opinions or speakers, they are labeled RED (-.25 each). We break out events by their source (students, faculty or administration) and ignore events that involve just a few students or professors, choosing instead to focus on events indicating broader sentiment, norms, or policy. Again, we’re always trying to look at it from the perspective of an incoming first-year student. The relevant event scores range from a minimum of 0 to a maximum of 1.  

Example: The support of a college paper by the President of Wesleyan University in light of calls for censorship and vandalism after an objectionable op-ed.
Example: The University of Missouri police asks individuals who witness incidents of hateful and/or hurtful speech to immediately call the campus police station (or 911).

The three Relevant Events scores contribute 45% of the overall Heterodoxy score for each school. The Student score is weighted as 20%, Administrators are 15% and Faculty are 10%. (We weight students most heavily because our research indicates that students walk on eggshells primarily out of fear of their fellow students.)

Violence penalty: We subtract 3 points from the Heterodoxy score for each instance where there is an assault on individuals (as defined legally) or clear physical intimidation, or significant property damage, if that violence is intended to stop or shut down an event or is otherwise directed at a speaker in retaliation for the views expressed. (If it is clear that students played no role in the violence, then no penalty is levied. But if students were a significant part of a mob that used violence or physical intimidation, then we levy the penalty.)

To repeat: We have no way to directly measure the culture on campus — at least until many campuses start using our Fearless Speech Index to collect such data. Until then, our guide to colleges should be seen as a way to aggregate several imperfect predictors of openness to viewpoint diversity. Culture varies enormously within each university (e.g., humanities are most at risk of political orthodoxy; natural sciences much less so), and the undergraduate culture can change over the course of a few years. But we know of no alternative ranking or list to help high school seniors who want to be exposed to diverse political viewpoints while in college, so we created our own.

Update Schedule

Edition 3.0 (2018)

We will incorporate stories and reward schools for including information about viewpoint diversity in first-year orientation sessions.


Edition 2.0 (released June 19, 2017)

We expect that our second edition will be reliable enough to help high school seniors decide where to apply and to help everyone see which schools are most likely to offer viewpoint diversity.

This second edition will include a re-weighted methodology allowing for a better balance of considerations around what schools are credited or penalized for. We will also catalog and count speaker disinvitations, among additional factors, to provide an improved picture of a school’s degree of viewpoint diversity on campus.

We incorporated whether a school has been declared a Heterodox University and we updated our Relevant Events column to be broken out by examples by faculty/administration and also by the student body/student groups.


Please email to share your feedback.