University of Southern California

Location: Los Angeles, California
Website: http://www.usc.edu
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 9th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

University of Southern California has been given the speech code rating Red. A red light university has at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech. Read more here.

  • University of Southern California: Censorship of Performance and Protest

    February 22, 2006

    The University of Southern California (USC) has declared its dedication to upholding the First Amendment and has announced that it will review its speech code after FIRE denounced its recent censorship of both a campus performance and signs that it deemed offensive. FIRE intervened after a member of USC’s student affairs department shut down a public performance of a play titled ManLady because of its vulgarity. Three days later, students were detained for holding signs with derogatory language to protest the play’s interruption. FIRE wrote to USC President Steven Sample to remind him that California law forbade private universities in […]

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Red Light Policies

  • SCampus: Sexual Misconduct 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    No student may commit sexual harassment, defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when: …

    • such conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or academic performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or learning environment or student living environment.

    Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, the following examples, if a reasonable person would have perceived them as objectively offensive:

    • Written instances: Suggestive or obscene communication via letters, notes, text messages, emails, and any material distributed via social media, or any type of digital communication.
    • Verbal instances: Derogatory comments, slurs, jokes, or epithets of a sexual nature or sexist remarks, discussions about sex or sexual activities not related to a specific course topic, requests for sexual favors, repeated and unwelcome propositions for dates, or offensive sexual remarks about an individual’s looks, clothing, or body parts when related to sex or gender.
    • Physical instances: Leering, stalking, assaults, impeding or blocking movement, touching, or body contact.
    • Visual instances: Inappropriate display of sexually explicit objects, pictures, cartoons, posters, computer screen savers, websites, movies, drawings, or sexual gestures.

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Yellow Light Policies
  • SCampus: Behavior Violating University Standards and Appropriate Sanctions 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    Comments or actions which are individually directed and which are harassing, intimidating or threatening or interfere with work or learning, for the person at which they are directed and for a reasonable person.

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  • Office for Residential Education: Bias Protocol 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech

    Hate Incident
    Not all expressions of hate or group bias rise to the level of a hate crime as defined in state and federal statute. Derogatory words or epithets directed against a member of a protected class, as listed above if not accompanied by a threat of harm with the ability to carry it out are considered protected speech and not a hate crime.

    If potentially offensive or harmful material (written or verbal) is found in the residence halls, resident advisors serve as first-responders and enact our bias response protocol.

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  • Implementation Policies Governing Use of Computing Resources at USC: Electronic Communications 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies

    The following list provides examples of inappropriate use of electronic communication: … Transmitting intimidating, harassing, or threatening electronic communication and/or forging electronic communication. … All types of unauthorized bulk or junk email are prohibited. Unauthorized email includes, but is not limited to, mass emailings inconsistent with the goals of the institution, unsolicited junk email, and the propagation of chain email.

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  • SCampus: Free Expression and Dissent- Reasonable Time, Place and Manner 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies

    Coercive disruption is construed to include any activity which, contrary to law: … Contains “fighting words” where (i) the speech, considered objectively, is abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas and (ii) it is actually used in an abusive manner in a situation that presents an actual danger.

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  • SCampus: Discrimination, Harassment, and Retaliation 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies

    1. The University of Southern California is committed to maintaining an environment that is free from discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment. No student may take actions that are harassing, abusive or intimidating against anyone based on any protected characteristic, or commit actions which adversely affect another because of a protected characteristic, when the conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s academic or work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive academic, work or student living environment.

    4. Such conduct may include, but is not limited to, the following examples, if a reasonable person would have perceived them as objectively offensive:

    • Ridicule, abuse, insults or derogatory comments that are directly or indirectly based on a protected characteristic;
    • Offensive remarks about an individual’s looks, clothing, or body parts, that relate to a protected characteristic;
    • Offensive comments about an individual’s racial, ethnic or religious characteristics;
    • Disparaging or offensive remarks about an individual’s gender whether or not sexual in nature;
    • Disparaging or offensive comments about an individual’s religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs;
    • Expressing negative stereotypes regarding an individual’s country of birth, ancestry, citizenship, or race;
    • Disparaging, intimidating or offensive references to an individual’s mental or physical impairment or disability;
    • Disparaging racial or ethnic remarks, and racial or ethnic slurs, jokes or epithets;
    • Disparaging comments based on other protected characteristics;
    • Offensive and unwelcome language directed at someone because of her or his gender, or based on gender stereotypes;
    • Any unwelcome verbal or physical behavior based on any protected characteristic when the behavior or conduct has the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s academic or work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive academic, work or student living environment, if a reasonable person would have perceived the action as objectively offensive.

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Green Light Policies
  • SCampus: General Policy Statements- Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    Every member of the academic community shall enjoy the rights of free speech, peaceful assembly and the right of petition.

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  • SCampus: University Policy on Free Expression and Dissent 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression

    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. Dissent (defined as disagreement, a difference of opinion, or thinking differently from others) is an integral aspect of expression in higher education, whether it manifests itself in a new and differing theory in quantum mechanics, a personal disagreement with a current foreign policy, opposition to a position taken by the university itself, or by some other means.

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  • SCampus: Free Expression and Dissent- Guidelines for Campus Demonstrations 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies

    All student members of the university community have the right to hold a demonstration (including, but not limited to, a rally, gathering, protest, parade or procession) on campus.

    Reservations and prior arrangements are not required for campus demonstrations.

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  • OUR OPINION: UND must reaffirm free speech, other rights

    January 6, 2013

    Look on the bright side: At least UND didn’t get scorched by FIRE as having the Speech Code of the Year. Last week, FIRE — the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education — awarded that “honor” to two other schools, including Oakland University in Michigan. There, the school’s policy prohibits offending or disturbing anyone via phone or computer, “nor shall any person” use “immoral or insulting language” over those devices. Oakland’s policy “illustrates perfectly the mock-Victorian sensibility that seems to underlie so many university speech codes, a sensibility according to which adult college students must not be exposed to anything […]

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  • College Students Were 2012’s Unsung Heroes for Free Speech

    January 4, 2013

    by Azhar Majeed Policymic   Students at our nation’s colleges and universities won a number of important victories for freedom of speech and the First Amendment over the past year. They vindicated their core expressive rights, fought back against repressive university practices, and taught us all valuable lessons about living in a free society. The victories on campus weren’t limited to instances where student speech was censored or punished in application, however. At a number of institutions, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE, where I work) convinced the administration to proactively protect free speech by reforming illiberal and unconstitutional policies before they […]

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  • USC, Clemson Policies Threaten Students’ Free-Speech Rights, Group Contends

    September 19, 2012

    While students are getting their higher education, they might want to watch what they say while they’re on campus. The University of South Carolina and Clemson University have rules or policies that violate or could violate the First Amendment, says the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a nonprofit organization that rates large U.S. colleges and universities on how they adhere to the rights of free speech, assembly, press, petition and religion. In a study released earlier this year, FIRE, an educational foundation in Philadelphia, examined speech codes, harassment policies and other rules at the two South Carolina universities. […]

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  • USC Student’s Pro-Life Display Vandalized, Still Leads to Discussion

    January 24, 2014

    It’s a story as familiar as it is frustrating: students censoring other students by destroying their displays on campus. The College Fix reports that on Tuesday, University of Southern California (USC) student and USC Students For Life President Lisa Ebiner Gavit caught two of her peers in the act as they were ripping up her display consisting of four posters and 275 white hearts, meant to represent how many abortions take place nationwide every two hours. As we’ve explained here on The Torch, vandalizing a display that another individual or group set up is, well, vandalism—and students who disagree with the ideas expressed by a display should […]

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  • ‘Daily Trojan’ Highlights USC’s ‘Red Light’ Policies

    October 10, 2012

    The University of Southern California’s (USC’s) student newspaper, the Daily Trojan, recently published an article discussing the school’s “red light” rating for speech codes from FIRE and its effect on campus discourse. In particular, the school’s prohibition of “fighting words” and “insulting” speech makes USC’s speech codes some of the worst in California, a state without a single “green light” school. Author Sarah Cueva urges USC to revise these objectionable policies: If USC is to be an institution that is truly dedicated to intellectual exploration and the betterment of society, the administration must revise its speech-related policies to allow for […]

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  • Speech Code of the Month: University of Southern California

    January 9, 2012

    FIRE announces its Speech Code of the Month for January 2012: the University of Southern California (USC). USC’s policy on “Advertising, Promotion, and Literature Distribution” prohibits the posting or distribution of any printed materials that contain “derogatory language or material that is aimed at harming a specific person or an organization’s reputation.” This policy prohibits a large amount of expression protected by the First Amendment, including the kind of core political expression that lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections. Although USC is private, its policies “recognize[] the crucial importance of preserving First Amendment rights” and promise that […]

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  • Discussion at USC Ignores Serious Free Speech Concerns on Campus

    March 14, 2011

    Rachel Bracker of the University of Southern California’s (USC’s) student newspaper the Daily Trojan reported on a “campus conversation” on “free speech,” held at USC last Tuesday and led in part by University Counsel Stephen Yamaguchi. Unfortunately, Bracker’s report suggests that many students left disappointed because they still didn’t possess a clear understanding of their free speech rights as USC students. Sherry Wang, a freshman majoring in creative writing, said: I came here because I wanted to see what the campus’s actual policies were, but I felt like the information they gave was actually kind of vague. Perhaps the speakers didn’t […]

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  • The Danger of Policies

    March 28, 2007

    A year ago, FIRE became involved in a case at the University of Southern California when a performer and later protestors were censored for speaking and displaying the word ‘fuck.’ Ironically, the performer and students were silenced while standing in USC’s free speech zone. Not only did USC maintain a free speech zone policy, but it seemed that even within that zone, administrators wanted to control the content of speech. FIRE sent a letter of concern to USC, and the school quickly responded. Lori S. White, Associate Vice President for Students Affairs, ensured FIRE of USC’s commitment to freedom of […]

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  • USC Blocks Election of Editor-in-Chief

    December 6, 2006

    Today, eighteen college newspapers published editorials protesting USC Vice President Michael L. Jackson’s decision to block the re-election of the current editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan, USC’s student newspaper. Zach Fox, current editor-in-chief of the Daily Trojan, was elected by the newspaper’s staff to serve next semester as editor-in-chief, but USC Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson blocked the student media board from approving him for the position. Fox apparently made no friends among the USC administration when he began advocating for a major change in staffing structure that would make the editor-in-chief more of a managerial position. Fox […]

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  • Silence Speaks Volumes at NYU

    May 24, 2006

    New York University prides itself on being a “private university in the public service,” but talk is cheap—that is, when it isn’t silenced altogether. Despite the lofty aspirations of the school’s motto, in late March NYU decided that certain types of speech on campus just aren’t entitled to the core First Amendment protections relied upon by every American with something to say. On March 30, a panel discussion entitled “Free Speech and the Danish Cartoons,” hosted by NYU’s Objectivist Club, was censored by NYU officials, who refused to allow the event to proceed as planned (and be open to the […]

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  • USC Prof’s Topless Photos Raise Eyebrows

    May 11, 2006

    The University of Southern California recently came to FIRE’s attention when it shut down a play and a protest because of the use of profanity. FIRE wrote USC in protest, and to its credit, USC wrote back that the censorship was not authorized, saying, “Please know that the university does not in any way endorse the actions that occurred related to the events on January 23 and 26.” Now USC is back in the news over another form of expression that some people are likely to find offensive. According to NBC San Diego, women’s studies professor Diana York Blaine’s personal […]

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  • The Need for Vigilance

    April 11, 2006

    FIRE’s Spotlight: The Campus Freedom Resource details written restrictions on speech at colleges and universities across the country. Yet we at FIRE often see administrators stray from official policy and censor students with unwritten policies or arbitrary actions. Therefore, students must be vigilant not only about the written policies governing speech on campus but also about their administration’s daily approach to handling controversial speech. The latest example of the disconnect between policy and action occurred at the University of Southern California. As FIRE reported in a press release yesterday, Eddie Marquez, an administrator at USC, shut down both a performance […]

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  • Victory for Freedom of Speech at the University of Southern California

    April 10, 2006

    LOS ANGELES, April 10, 2006—The University of Southern California (USC) has publicly reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of speech and repudiated two instances of censorship. USC’s renewed embrace of liberty came after the intervention of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “We are impressed with USC’s response,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “While we would prefer that universities not censor their students in the first place, a real willingness to address and repudiate censorship will go a long way toward restoring liberty on our campuses.” The trouble at USC began in January when George Weiss Vando performed his […]

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