The Limitations of FIRE’s Database

John Warner
Inside Higher Ed

Excerpt: With its recently released update to its “Scholars Under Fire” database, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education wants us to know that the threats to scholarly speech have “risen dramatically” since 2015, and that the primary threat comes from students from the political left.

It’s worth examining how (and perhaps why) FIRE came to this conclusion, what their system of classification misses, and also to understand why attempts to quantify threats to free speech and academic freedom are generally unhelpful when it comes to navigating these complicated issues.

Inside Higher Ed’s Colleen Flaherty outlines some of shortcomings of FIRE’s methodology in her write-up of the database. For one, FIRE chooses to not count instances of harassment that don’t carry at least a potential threat of professional sanction as threats to speech.