For a Clear Free Speech Policy at USC sign now

We have two demands that are intended to benefit the university student body as a whole, not just members of Students for Justice in Palestine. We think both demands are reasonable and easily placable:

1. USC should start immediately to craft a specific and comprehensive policy of what is and what is not free speech on campus. Without such a policy, we never are subject to the whims of individual DPS officers or university officials and can never be sure of our rights on campus.

2. We want an assurance from USC that DPS officers or university officials will not intimidate students for exercising their constitutionally protected free speech.


As members and supporters of Students for Justice in Palestine, we have felt uncomfortable and unsettled by USC's lack of a clear policy on free speech at the university. When some of us have been on campus exercising our right to free speech and our right to demonstrate, we have been repeatedly told what and where to do things but not according to any specific or concrete set of guidelines or policies.

On multiple occasions, DPS officers and administration officials have barked commands at us for what we strongly believe is our basic right. During one particularly disturbing episode, after our member Marwa Katbi refused to follow orders from DPS officers to move from where she was silently and peacefully holding up a sign, Michael L. Jackson, Vice President of Student Affairs, told her, "when somebody like me tells you to move, you move." After she and other SJP members continued to insist on her right to protest peacefully, Jackson and DPS left the scene and did not return. Were they right along in what they deemed to be their right to free speech? If so, why were DPS officers and a USC official so insistent and disrespectful to them in the first place?

Having heightened our interest in free speech on campus, some of us attended the event "Campus Conversation: Free Speech" on May 8th, 2011 (1), but, as was reported in the Daily Trojan (2) and later on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education website (3), we found the event to be extremely insufficient at answering even the most basic questions regarding free speech on campus. During the Q & A after the presentation, speaker and member of USC's Legal Counsel Steve Yamaguchi repeatedly prefaced each answer with I can't speak for the university, but my personal opinion is ... and would give responses that were vague and unhelpful. If students can't find out about free speech on campus at such an event, it would seem it is impossible to ever learn concretely what our rights are.

In his article, The Misapplication of Peer Harassment Law on College and University Campuses and the Loss of Student Speech Rights, in The Journal for College and University Law, Azhar Majeed writes that "some colleges and universities have drafted and maintained harassment policies which by their very terms are constitutionally vague, overbroad, or both.... By targeting and punishing students for engaging in constitutionally protected speech, these institutions are ignoring the importance on a college or university campus of allowing for robust speech rights, rigorous debate and discussion, and the unfettered exchange of ideas." Majeed continues: Whether such misapplication [of harassment policies] is intentional and stems from a desire to remove certain expression from campus, or rather is the result of misunderstanding the law, the end result is that some administrators are interfering with students' speech rights. (1) Throughout the article, Majeed cites numerous examples where the misapplication of university harassment codes have resulted in repeated court rulings against universities for restricting free speech.

According to USC's SCampus, the University of Southern California is committed to fostering a learning environment where free inquiry and expression are encouraged and celebrated and for which all its members share responsibility. We only wish that USC lives up to its stated and legally obligated policy to protect free speech on campus in a clear and uniform way.

We look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible.



(1) http://sait.usc.edu/lgbt/about/upcoming-events/campus-conversation-series-free-speech-with-uscs-general-counsel.aspx
(2) http://dailytrojan.com/2011/03/09/students-curious-about-rules-for-free-speech-on-campus/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+DailyTrojan-rss+\%28Daily+Trojan\%29
(3)http://thefire.org/article/12950.html
(4) Majeed, Azhar. The Misapplication of Peer Harassment Law on College and University Campuses and the Loss of Student Speech Rights. The Journal for College and University Law. May 7, 2009. http://thefire.org/index.php/article/10575.html

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Marion EstradaBy:
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Michael L. Jackson and the University of Southern California Administration

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