USC must respect students’ free speech

There was an embarassing incident last Thursday when an administration employee instructed Dept. of Public Safety officers to throw three doctorate students out of an event celebrating the groundbreaking of Wallis Annenberg Hall on suspicion of being protestors.

Max Rubin | Daily Trojan

The three second-year Ph.D. communication students — Alex Leavitt, Emma Bloomfield and Marcus Shepard — were falsely identified by an employee of the administration as being members of the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, which for three semesters has been protesting the use of sweatshop labor to make USC apparel.

Aside from the public relations faux pas, however, the incident further illuminates a serious problem with the administration’s recent stance on free speech at USC, particularly where SCALE is concerned.

The standing legal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution is that it only restricts the power and actions of the government. Therefore, private institutions such as USC are not compelled constitutionally to uphold an individual’s First Amendment rights.

The state constitution of California, however, includes an affirmative right to free speech, one on which private institutions cannot infringe. USC is also subject to its own regulations governing the free speech of its students. The SCampus and Student Code of Conduct, for example, repeatedly state that USC supports free speech, provided it does not incite illicit activity, interfere with the day-to-day operations of the university or constitute hate speech.

The university administration, therefore, had little basis for denying these students admission to an event — one they were, in fact, specifically invited to — for fear they might choose to express their opinions while in attendance. Leavitt, while acknowledging that everyone makes mistakes, expressed his distaste with the policy he was falsely accused of violating.

“That our exclusion originated in an insinuation that particular students do not have the freedom or privilege to speak out on and about our campus … is outright disappointing,” Leavitt said.

Recently, USC has tightened up security at student events in response to escalation of SCALE’s activism, which has intensified since a September factory fire in Pakistan that killed 289 garment workers and represented one of the biggest industrial disasters in history.

According to Women’s Wear Daily, a factory monitoring agency certified the facility for fire safety in an audit less than a year before the tragedy occurred. This same monitor, UL Responsible Sourcing, is listed in USC’s License Social Responsibility Compliance Manual as one of the university’s approved third-party auditing firms for factories in which university-licensed products are manufactured.

When labor rights become a matter of life or death, it would seem prudent for the university’s administration to engage with students on this important local, national and global issue. It seems, however, that the university has ignored these students for so long that it is unable to correctly identify them.

Members of SCALE are exercising their First Amendment rights, which the university claims to wholeheartedly support, as well as their civic duty to speak out when an American institution is not respecting human dignity, health and, in the case of the factory fire, life.

But instead of recognizing them for the responsible community members they are, the administration has labeled this group a scourge on the campus, to the point that merely looking like members was enough to get Leavitt, Bloomfield and Shepard ejected from an event.

The university should encourage open dialogue between the administration and students who want to see their school enact positive change.

If USC were to embrace rather than suppress the message its students are trying to send, it could steer clear of restricting free speech on campus and provide the university with future opportunities to take a stand on important community and global issues.


Francesca Bessey is a sophomore majoring in narrative studies and international relations. Her column “Open Campus” runs Wednesdays.

52 replies
  1. Joe Rizoli
    Joe Rizoli says:

    Nice to post with people that hide with only first names. Keep being cowards.
    I am all for CODOH. The Jews fear them because that would make the Jews accountable to FACTS about the holocaust. Wouldn’t want to do that would we? The only holocaust happened to Germans. Dresden, Hamburg and 30 + other cities. The six million is a fraud, a lie. Time for you people to do your homework. Out web site CCFIILE exposes all the lies.

    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      Look, I get it—promoting this stuff is your job. You’re incredibly unlikely to convince anyone here to side with you, though, and your unceasing posts that are irrelevant to the articles on this site do nothing to further your (flawed) cause. I know—you can’t resist an opportunity to scream “freedom of speech!” yet you never acknowledge (1) that the Daily Trojan’s advertisements are not a public space, (2) that USC is not a public space, and (3) that no one here takes you seriously. Go back to your silly little town and your silly little life and leave us people who have actual lives alone.

      That said, if you’d like to start a crusade against illegals here, go for it. That is an actual problem (albeit one that would significantly damage the American economy if it were immediately “solved”).

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        I’ll note that my second paragraph was facetious and intended to highlight another area of “expertise” that our friend Joe takes an active interest in.

      • Jett Rucker
        Jett Rucker says:

        (1) The Trojan’s advertisements are NOT a public space. Granted.
        (2) USC is not a public space. Granted.
        (3) No one here takes us seriously. Well, one or two people MIGHT take us seriously (I certainly do), but granted, most people haven’t even heard of us. WHY IS THAT?

        Because the Daily Trojan, as IS THEIR RIGHT, declines our advertisements. Doing so is inimical to free speech. It DOES NOT violate any RIGHTS we have – it is mere censorship, of a type they have every right to conduct. They claim to advocate free speech, yet censor us. Not a public space – just a poseur of free speech.

        Maybe they’ll censor you someday. I wouldn’t like that, as I abhor censorship.

        • Anonymous
          Anonymous says:

          You (deliberately?) ignore the fact the Daily Trojan has, one could argue, an obligation to direct the advertisements that it publishes to the interests and benefit of itself and its readers. If they had to choose between advertisements that are directly relevant to USC students and yours, which are not, I would argue that good editors would choose something that would apply to their readers.

  2. Brad
    Brad says:

    By the way, DT, from a design perspective, I do think it would be advisable to either escape HTML sequences in usernames or remove them entirely, as you do inside postings, lest you invite spam links.

  3. Joe Doakes
    Joe Doakes says:

    Also I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t be hearing the same complaints from you in the instance of an affirmative-action bake sale being closed down. Again, please leave to exercise your blatantly partisan protestorism at a university that cares.

  4. Joe Doakes
    Joe Doakes says:

    I disagree. If you want to protest, and be disruptive to students actually seeking to educate themselves, go somewhere else. UC Berkeley has a very vibrant protest environment in which you can occupy buildings, march into classes, and act like idiots (also called protestors). Part of the reason I want to USC is because of its reputation for being an institution of higher education, and NOT a radical, crazy, disgustingly protestor environment like UC Berkeley. You have the right to act like an idiot elsewhere. Francesa, please exercise your right to move and go somewhere else.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      Couldn’t have said it better myself. Well said, Joe!

      Having the CODOH morons post on here is almost as annoying as the skinheads that showed up a few years ago, creating a ruckus and disturbing the day to day operations. Perhaps these groups are one and the same?

  5. John '55
    John '55 says:

    This is the second time in only a few weeks these crazy America haters in SCALE have caused a ruckus on campus in a attempt to garner favorable media coverage. In between their self created media circuses, SCALE was apparently completely silent to the attempted murder on campus of some kids attending a Halloween party by a thug gang member but have all the time in the world to protest progress at USC. For all the fools like this Ryan kid in SCALE, progress is building new buildings. Tearing down old ones to build new ones is jobs, jobs here in America. America comes first with me and my family and if some crazy fellow America haters in Pakistan get cooked in some factory, I say good riddance! There a few less potential terrorist or supporters of terrorists that me and family need to worry about.

    Time for the leaders of SC to ban the SCALE group from meeting on campus.

    • George
      George says:

      There’s so much wrong with this post that all I can deign to say is “ok, John, time to take your medicine and have a nice nap.”

          • John '55
            John '55 says:


            Coming from a America and Jew hater like yourself just proves my point.

            I hope you grow up some day but I’m not holding my breath waiting…

          • Ryan
            Ryan says:

            Valid point, John. I can’t think of anything tremendously horrible that’s ever come from judging people by their heritage.

          • Brad
            Brad says:

            John, maybe you consider yourself an adult age-wise, but you haven’t grown up yet, or at least grown with the times. I’ve been around the world more times than you have – I guarantee it. And everywhere I’ve been, people have treated me with respect because I care to take a deep interest in their language, culture, and well-being. I don’t just think “America or bust” – I form my own opinions and critiques because I can think for myself (college helped with that, but you must have missed that part, since you claim to be a heavier drinker than anyone in the current college generation) and don’t give two cents about what you think I am. I am a global citizen and proud of it – people in other countries deserve just as much respect as any American. Watching you spit fire via worthless ad hominem (sorry, I forgot English is your only language: personal attacks and name-calling) on a college newspaper is rather amusing to me. If you are truly an alum of our great institution that is USC, well, this helps confirm that our admissions standards have risen over a span of 50 or so years.

            I’m not part of scale or a current student, but the way you consistently bash a group like SCALE, a group that is looking out for the well-being of other human beings (are they really asking for that much?), no matter the difference, is mind-boggling. Calling them names is immature at best – it’s something one learns isn’t proper at, let’s see, around five years old. And attacking Ryan because of his German heritage, assuming he (and I) are “Jew haters” is pathetic. I could say something similar about you and a few historical hate groups in America or otherwise, but a) I don’t stoop to that level of ignorance, b) it doesn’t make any sense anyway, and c) you’d probably think it does and be proud of whatever association is made.

            I’m guessing that your eyesight has probably worsened over the years, but I didn’t realize that myopia could spread from the eyes to the brain so easily.

          • Brad
            Brad says:

            John, have you been hitting out of the bunker a lot lately? Either way, you have a lot of sand in your ears.

    • Ryan Hauck
      Ryan Hauck says:

      Good to see you again, John.

      Now to be fair, you can’t really call this incident SCALE’s “self-created media circus.” I would lay all the responsibilities for this unfortunate instance at the administration’s feet. They were ones who excluded three students from a campus event on the false assumption that they were SCALE members. In fact, as far as I know, there were no SCALE members present at the groundbreaking, and certainly none intent on protesting. As I’ve said below, I’m not quite sure how protesting the building of WAH would fit within SCALE’s purview. Nor does the unfortunate shooting on Halloween, which — while certainly a tragedy — doesn’t fall within the specific range of issues covered by our particular group. That being said, the media circus that would arise if USC tried to ban a student-run advocacy group would be a sight to behold I’m certain. Maybe you should lobby for them to do so. I can’t think of a better way you’d could help out the cause.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Care to disclose the reason behind your obsession with SCALE, Francesca? You’re quite the pseudo-journalist. And really—SCALE sucks, its ideas suck, its motivations suck, and its members lack a basic understanding of the economics underlying a globalized economy. Then again, what’s the point of learning useful things in school? It’s all about “expanding your mind,” right?

    • Sam
      Sam says:

      Anonymous, first off, your mostly-accusatory comment not only lives up to ad nauseum, but when you bring in the “you suck” rant, I think I speak for most people when I say I’ve heard pubescent teens on Call of Duty throw more articulate fits.

      Secondly, economics is only one thing underlying a globalized economy. These sweatshops often abuse their workers (which tend to be women and children) physically and sexually and often overlook basic safety regulations (like the Pakistani factory aforementioned), among other things you take for granted. Okay, okay, pulling the fire alarm WAS funny the first time.

      Look, nobody is saying we should get rid of these garment factories, it’s the fact that they’re “sweatshops” that makes the difference. Heck, at moments like these, rivalry week ain’t nothing without my “fucla” shirt.

      • Anonymous
        Anonymous says:

        I will happily concede that, in a single instance, the use of a “you suck” argument would be childish. Here, I was going for more of a trope, though, and I wanted to give it a nice rhythm. Not my most articulate of moments, perhaps, but it appears that you noticed it, which was the intent.

        As a strict capitalist who truly, honestly believes that the government should do nearly nothing (separate discussion), I would argue that economics is the only thing that matters in a globalized economy. However, I recognize that there are ethical concerns, and some of these have some modicum of legitimacy to them. Perhaps you would enjoy an article from Volume 13, Issue 2 of Business Ethics Quarterly: “Sweatshops and Respect for Persons.” You can find it on JSTOR. It lays out a Kantian analysis (yes, I recognize that my comment above disparages classes in such things as philosophy—I do stand by that argument) of sweatshops and their conditions. I suspect the extreme nature of SCALE’s demands when juxtaposed with this article will surprise you.

        Let me put it this way: I understand that you advocate to modify certain behaviors at USC as a microcosm for larger-scale change that you support; however, I would urge you to consider rational, non-extremist positions and to engender a spirit of good neighborliness with those who disagree with you. You might actually get something done then. Speaking of which, whatever happened to that conflict-free minerals thing that dear Francesca submitted to USG? Is that being implemented? Oops.

        Agreed wholeheartedly on the “FUCLA” shirt—if I see anyone I know named “Sam” wearing one this week, I’ll buy him a drink.

  7. Joe Rizoli
    Joe Rizoli says:

    My question is what is “hate speech” ?
    With the ADL sticking its nose where it doesn’t belong its version of hate speech is anything or any opinion they disagree with. That is the issue here. Certain topics are off limit for conversation such as the holocaust, even though it should be discussed as a part of history and should be able to be questioned and scrutinized. As of now it is a holy temple of hands off conversation. Censoring CODOH is the ultimate example of cowardliness and a Jewish manipulation of free speech

    • George
      George says:

      No, targeting college students with hate speech like that of CODOH is cowardice, including trying to lead people to your page with your bs username.

      • Jett Rucker
        Jett Rucker says:

        GOOD argument, there, Ryan! Keep on punchin’.

        By the way, George, I can see YOU haven’t fallen for that “Open Debate” ruse (and visited the pages you describe as “hate speech).” Keep yourself pure! Hate speech is hate speech – especially if you’ve never heard/read any of it.

        I’m I hater, for sure! I hate lies – AND those who knowingly defend/perpetuate them. As for you, I suspect you’re a mere dupe (as I was, for longer than you’ve probably lived, yet).

        So I don’t hate you. I just hate what you defend.

        • Brad
          Brad says:

          Not too difficult to figure out that the same people denying the Holocaust are probably in line with those who deny 9/11 or other tragedies to forward some race-based agenda that led to major events like these in history.

          But I’ll bite:
          a) if you hate lies so much, why cast aside the mounting evidence in favor of conspiracy (a.k.a. delusion, lies)?
          b) has the water near your home been tested?

          • Jett Rucker
            Jett Rucker says:

            Brad, I’ve long since accepted the mounting evidence that the Holocaust mythology is the product of an unholy conspiracy among the victorious Allies of World War II and the Zionists.

            Surely YOU haven’t cast aside the evidence, have you?

            Having as I do such a preponderance of evidence on my side, I have no temptation to engage in silly remarks about the water in your area. Such remarks are the brand of the weaker side of an argument.

          • Brad
            Brad says:

            Oh, they’re “unholy” Zionists now, are they? And I suppose all the death camps were just made up? And the Nuremberg trials were all for naught? Clearly, these people have achieved a disproportionate amount of power now through their manipulation *snicker*.

            I could go on, but I don’t want to tempt you to keep filling the online space with garbage. The Daily Trojan, in this regard, is doing us all a favor, not just those that aren’t “aware” of the tragedy.

            And, yes, it’s clear that my water remarks are much less mature than your entire argument.

          • Jett Rucker
            Jett Rucker says:

            The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg was, in the words of Supreme Court Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, a “lynching party for Germans.” Although styled to resemble an actual trial (these have their own drawbacks, to be sure), the IMT was in fact theater to make it clear to all and sundry that the genocidal bombing attacks on the German population (and depredations on the home populations as well) were justified. They wouldn’t have hanged all those people just to make a point, now, would they (having just won a devastating war)?

            If you put credence in the IMT, you probably believe the USS Maddox was attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. And that Lee Harvey Oswald shot John Kennedy with a single well-placed shot from the Texas Schoolbook Depository. And on and on and on.

            Believe on, Brother! It’s all dished up just for you!

          • Brad
            Brad says:

            Fine, here’s my question. Whether you’re correct or not, why do you care? I doubt it’s solely for the truth. Given the passion you have for this “cause” against so many innocent people, how does “their lie” (your words, not mine) affect you?

  8. Ras
    Ras says:

    With freedom comes great responsibility. We are unraveling as a society where we hide behind free speech as a cover for bad behavior. If I thought you were skanky whore, should I be free to stand on the public sidewalk and inform all people walking to the church at your wedding that you are a skanky whore? If someone tries to stop me from doing this on your special day, isn’t that a violation of my free speech?

    Similarly, it is too easily and quite frankly very cowardly to pick a special day when USC wants to celebrate its ground breaking and have it usurped by people looking to make trouble.

    What I find unclear about this article is are the 3 students upset because they have been associated with SCALE when in fact they have absolutely nothing to do with SCALE, or is the author stating even if the 3 students were part of SCALE and they wanted to protect – they should have been able to do so. I hate when college level students can not be clear about the simple points in their opinion because they quickly want to get to the part where they are shaking their fist at the MAN.

    • Ryan
      Ryan says:

      “What I find unclear about this article is are the 3 students upset because they have been associated with SCALE when in fact they have absolutely nothing to do with SCALE, or is the author stating even if the 3 students were part of SCALE and they wanted to protect – they should have been able to do so. I hate when college level students can not be clear about the simple points in their opinion because they quickly want to get to the part where they are shaking their fist at the MAN.”

      I would say she’s making BOTH points. If SCALE had wanted to protest the groundbreaking (and quite frankly I don’t see what the groundbreaking has to do with labor issues, so they probably wouldn’t) they should have the freedom to. But these students weren’t even affiliated with SCALE, making it even worse, (esp. because one student was *allegedly* misidentified because of his race). Plus, I resent the idea that this author is “shaking [her] fist at the MAN.” Frankly this stuff matters. Don’t belittle it to be contrary.

      Also Ras, if I was a skanky whore, I’d want you to tell me. Please don’t let me show up at my wedding in that state.

      hugs and kisses,

  9. John
    John says:

    While this article underlines the issue of free speech in this incident, it also misses the issue of racial profiling that was part of this incident. Shepard was identified as a member of SCALE due to his race as he “looked like a leader in SCALE” and the other two doctoral students were involved due to them taking concern about how Shepard was being treated. I think a more detailed article should be released that truly illuminates the entire story for those who aren’t familiar with what happened on our campus last week. This incident underscores several issues on this campus that we should all be aware of and hopefully USC is taking this seriously.

  10. Johnny
    Johnny says:

    Great article. Dear Daily Trojan editors, please print more of these articles reflecting on important issues between students and our university. The idea of a free press is to hold power to account. And that means our university.

  11. Jett Rucker
    Jett Rucker says:

    Under pressure from represented on-campus by the Hillel Foundation, and by the Anti-Defamation League, The Trojan (celebrating 100 years of . . . journalism) rejects paid advertising from the Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust.

    Amendments and written policies aside, this just IS NOT the practice of free speech. That free speech IS claimed to be practiced by California/USC/The Trojan, et al is just propaganda. If you believe that stuff, I’ve got a bridge you might be interested in buying.

      • Jett Rucker
        Jett Rucker says:

        Anonymous, if YOU “just left,” nobody would miss YOU. After all, you are . . . nobody. Or anybody? Or?

        Well, you’re discursive, anyway – anybody can see THAT.

        By the way, I really don’t know who “wants to listen to me.” Or to you, either, your meaty content aside. And you don’t know, either. Just speak for yourself, would you? Like I do?

        • Anonymous
          Anonymous says:

          Anonymity is unrelated to nothingness; I have a well-defined identity, and I daresay many more people on this campus would miss me if I were to disappear than would miss you.

          I find it hilarious that you, of all people, accuse me of being discursive. I am infinitely more credible than you and your pathetic excuse of an organization, and I truly hope that you continue to try and push your point. Eventually, perhaps, your spirit will give out and you will be left a crushed excuse for a human being. Well, more of an excuse than you already are.

  12. bob
    bob says:

    The university policy is hypocritical at best. It lauds free speech, as long as it does not interfere with its day to day operations, a standard that is so vague that it allows the university to silence anyone they want, and, in this case, to falsely detain 3 innocent students, with no consequences whatsoever for the administration, no accountability.

    If we had free speech, there would not need to be a “Free speech zone” a few feet wide and deep by Tommy Trojan, there would just BE free speech.

    The policy that says we have free speech unless we interfere with the day to day operations of the U. is in direct contradiction with the meaning of the first amendment. in the words of justice Douglas, “a function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it induces a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it presses for acceptance of an idea.”

    Under Nikias’ version of free speech, we have free speech as long as it doesn’t disturb anyone, which is the antithesis of free speech.

    Further, the lack of free speech prevents accountability and gives a sense of entitlement to administrators, who feel they can do whatever they want and not be held responsible, be it when they allow a shady promotion company to operate on campus, or when DPS treats people like absolute crap, as they usually do, and as they did with the 3 grad students at the opening ceremony: in Westwood, such illegal detention would have been actionable against the police and the university in a court of law (oh yeah, you can’t legally detain innocent people). In contrast, at USC, Nikias, Jackson et al. will continue to parade as if they own the place, and stifle students’ legitimate behavior.

    This has to stop. FREE SPEECH FOR USC!

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