University of Southern California

Location: Los Angeles, California
Type: Private
Federal Circuit: 9th Circuit

Speech Code Rating

University of Southern California has been given the speech code rating Yellow. Yellow light colleges and universities are those institutions with at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application. 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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Yellow Light Policies
  • SCampus: Behavior Violating University Standards and Appropriate Sanctions 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Comments or actions which are individually directed and which are harassing, intimidating or threatening or interfere with work or learning.

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  • Office for Residential Education: Bias Protocol 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech, Statement

    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.

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  • SCampus: University Philosophy 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Policies Restricting Freedom of Conscience, Statement

    Code of Ethics of the University of Southern California ... We do not harass, mistreat, belittle, harm, or take unfair advantage of anyone.

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  • Implementation Policies Governing Use of Computing Resources at USC: Electronic Communications 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies, Statement

    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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  • USC Equity and Diversity: Sexual Harassment 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when any of the following apply: ... such conduct has the effect of interfering with a student's academic performance, or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or otherwise adverse learning environment.

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  • SCampus: University Policy on Free Expression and Dissent 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility, Statement

    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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Green Light Policies
  • SCampus: University Governance- Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression, Statement

    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 Sexual Harassment 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies, Statement

    In the context of the definition...
    Verbal sexual harassment may include, but is not limited to, written or spoken epithets; derogatory or sexually suggestive comments or slurs about an individual's body or dress; questions or statements about sexual activity, other than in an appropriate context such as academic study of such activity; sexual jokes and innuendo; whistling or suggestive sounds; or persistent, rejected, requests for dates or to have sex.

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  • SCampus: University Policy on Free Expression and Dissent 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression, Statement

    Students and student organizations shall be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinion publicly and privately. They shall be free to support causes by all orderly means which do
    not disrupt or substantially interfere with the regular and essential operations and activities of the university,
    since such disruption or substantial interference violates the responsible exercise of free inquiry and expression.

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  • SCampus: Advertising, Promotion and Literature Distribution Policies 12-13

    Speech Code Category: Posting Policies, Statement

    1. Content of all printed materials posted or distributed on campus must:
    a. Contain no material containing advocacy directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action.
    b. Contain no advertisements for "Term Paper Mills" or other products or services which undermine the academic integrity of the university.
    c. Contain no true threats or intimidation, meaning language where (i) the speaker means to communicate a serious expression of an intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group of individuals, or (ii) the speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.
    d. Contain no advertisements or promotions for alcoholic beverages, illegal drugs or drug paraphernalia.
    e. Contain no "fighting words" meaning language where (i) the speech, considered objectively, is abusive and insulting rather than a communication of ideas and (ii) is actually used in an abusive manner in a situation that presents an actual danger that it will cause a breach of peace.

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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 […]

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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 […]

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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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