The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) issued its annual report on free speech on the country’s major universities, and two Wisconsin universities are on the list were rated among the worst for restricting free speech.

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Marquette University were given a “Red Light” rating by FIRE, the poorest rating for protecting free speech on campus. According to the free speech advocacy organization, a “Red Light” means the universities maintain “speech codes that both clearly and substantially restrict freedom of speech.”

The poor ratings for the two universities come at a time when conditions for free speech are actually improving on the nation’s college campuses.

“More institutions than ever before understand the importance of free speech and are taking concrete steps to protect it,” said FIRE Vice President of Policy Research Samantha Harris. “There is still a lot of work to be done, though — and we look forward to working with more colleges and universities in the years to come.”

Marquette University has repeatedly earned the “Red Light” rating since the removal of political science Professor John McAdams over a blog post he wrote in 2015 critical of another instructor.  McAdams’ case has been appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

The university was also criticized by FIRE because of restrictive policies on student organizations’ abilities to schedule speakers or distribute flyers on campus – all subject to prior university administration approval.

The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh was cited for having a restrictive speech code, “Shared Principles to Guide Interactions Among Members of the University.” According to FIRE, this is the relevant passage that caused the “Red Light” rating:

All members of the University have a responsibility to promote and a right to expect: … an environment that is free of harassment and free of insulting and demeaning comments and epithets based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, military status, socioeconomic status, family status, or political views; consistent enforcement of federal, state and university protections against discriminatory treatment yet is free from any official speech codes.

Five other universities in the University of Wisconsin system were given “Yellow Light” ratings. According to FIRE, “A ‘yellow light’ institution is one whose policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression.”

The UW-System universities earning a “Yellow Light” rating are: UW-Madison, UW-Eau Claire, UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse and UW-Stout. No Wisconsin university that was given a rating earned a “Green Light” rating.

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