USC has been foolishly consistent on campus free expression

The University’s decision to bar the valedictorian from speaking echoes its stifling of John Strauss’ free speech.


Universities have rightly been taken to task for protecting left-wing speech while suppressing right-wing expression. Last fall, USC’s administration enforced such a double standard.  

Citing its duty to avoid disruptions and preserve safety, the University temporarily barred John Strauss, a professor of economics, from campus after he was recorded telling pro-Palestine protesters that Hamas are murderers who should all be killed.

Daily headlines, sent straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest at and around USC.

While Strauss was allowed to return to campus a few weeks later, USC’s initial reaction to his speech contrasted with its hands-off approach to a sustained onslaught of inflammatory campus protests calling for the destruction of Israel and rationalizing violence against Jews.

Months later, the administration’s decision to de-platform a duly appointed valedictorian, again over alleged safety concerns, shows that USC can be consistent in its handling of free speech after all — consistently wrong.

Its posture now appears to be a stalwart unwillingness to defend free speech across the ideological spectrum. In both the Tabassum and Strauss affairs, the University has capitulated to a heckler’s veto.

It has shrunk from its responsibility to ensure broad latitude for the expression of controversial ideas, emboldened would-be censors and chilled campus debate. The administration should reverse course. It should reinstate the valedictory address and deal aggressively with any threats to security.

Members of the University community who find the anti-Israel content on Tabassum’s social media appallingly ignorant or worse — as I do — should be able to rebut it with confidence that USC will stand behind our right to free expression, as well.

Morris Levy

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.