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
  • Office for Residential Education: Bias Protocol 14-15

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Bias and Hate Speech
    Last updated: November 5, 2014

    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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  • SCampus: Sexual or Gender-Based Harassment

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: November 19, 2015

    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 is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it has the purpose or 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. This conduct will also be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the complainant’s position, considering all the circumstances.

    Sexual harassment also includes harassment based on gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, which may include acts of verbal, nonverbal, or physical aggression, intimidation, or hostility based on sex, gender, or sex/gender stereotyping, even if the harassing acts do not involve conduct of a sexual nature.

    Sexual and gender-based harassment may include, but is not limited to, the following examples, when that behavior meets the criteria for sexual or gender-based harassment identified above:

    • 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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  • Policies Regarding Student Use of Computing Resources at USC: Electronic Communications

    Speech Code Category: Internet Usage Policies
    Last updated: November 20, 2015

    Electronic communication – which includes but is not limited to e-mail, network news, and chat sessions – can result in problems when used carelessly. The following behaviors are considered policy violations with respect to electronic communication:

    • Transmitting intimidating, harassing, or threatening electronic communication;
    • Forging electronic communication;
    • Transmitting any form of unauthorized bulk or junk e-mail (mass e-mailings, unsolicited junk e-mail, propagation of chain e-mail);
    • Inappropriate postings to electronic newsgroups that are often associated with subscriber complaints.

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

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: November 19, 2015

    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, Retaliation, Sexual Misconduct, Dating Violence, Domestic Violence, Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking and Child Abuse

    Speech Code Category: Harassment Policies
    Last updated: November 19, 2015

    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 is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive such that it has the purpose or 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. This conduct will also be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable person in the alleged victim’s position, considering all the circumstances.

    The actions do not have to be directed at a specific person or persons to constitute harassment.

    Such conduct may include, but is not limited to, the following examples, if the conduct meets the standards above:

    • 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

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  • Office of Residential Education: Inclusion Statement

    Speech Code Category: Policies on Tolerance, Respect, and Civility
    Last updated: November 20, 2015

    The Office for Residential Education is committed to providing a purposefully inclusive community where all members and visitors are free from harassment, verbal or written abuse, threats, ridicule, intimidation, cyber-bullying, or violence because of their identity. We will not accept fear, ignorance, apathy, indifference, religious bias, anger, alcohol or substance abuse as an excuse, reason, or rationale for such behavior. We encourage all members within our community to make informed personal choices, hold each other accountable, and actively challenge any injustices.

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

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: November 20, 2015

    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: Free Expression and Dissent- Policy

    Speech Code Category: Advertised Commitments to Free Expression
    Last updated: November 19, 2015

    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

    Speech Code Category: Protest and Demonstration Policies
    Last updated: November 19, 2015

    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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  • Title IX the Federal Law That Started a War Against Speech, Sex, and Students

    April 18, 2016

    By Robby Soave at Reason IX: It’s the little-known Roman numeral that has completely changed students’ lives on college campuses with respect to free speech, due process, and even sex. Thanks to the federal government’s increasingly broad interpretation of its power to regulate expression under anti-harassment law, college students and faculty members face new challenges to their rights each and every day… Read more here.

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  • Feds Fuel Anti-Sex Inquisition on Campus

    April 15, 2016

    By Robby Soave at The Daily Beast A male student scored a major victory in his lawsuit against the University of Southern California, which kicked him off campus for a remarkable non-crime: failing to de-escalate an orgy. This was a crazy case, and the decision in his favor impugns not just USC, but the federal government’s entire strategy to combat rape by making colleges deal with it… Read more here.

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  • Out of Balance

    April 14, 2016

    By Jake New at Inside Higher Ed Last week, the California Court of Appeals ruled against the University of Southern California in a lawsuit brought by a student suspended for allegedly sexually assaulting a woman during group sex… Read more here.

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  • Court Wins for Accused

    November 5, 2015

    By Jake New at Inside Higher Ed Last week, Brandon Austin, a former college basketball player, filed a lawsuit against the University of Oregon for $7.5 million, arguing that administrators there violated his rights when they suspended him over his alleged involvement in a gang rape. Austin was able to transfer to a community college and play basketball there last season, but has since left to (so far, unsuccessfully) pursue a professional basketball career. In the lawsuit, Austin claims that the punishment caused him emotional distress and lessened his chances of one day playing in the National Basketball Association. His […]

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  • For Students Accused Of Campus Rape, Legal Victories Win Back Rights

    October 15, 2015

    By Tovia Smith at National Public Radio College students can’t miss the warnings these days about the risk of campus sexual assault, but increasingly, some students are also taking note of what they perceive as a different danger. “Once you are accused, you’re guilty,” says Parker Oaks, one of several Boston University students stopped by NPR between classes. “We’re living in a society where you’re guilty before innocent now.” Xavier Adsera, another BU student, sounds a similar theme. “We used to not be fair to women on this issue,” he says. “Now we’re on the other extreme, not being fair […]

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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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  • Speech Code Countdown: Most of America’s ‘Best Colleges’ Restrict Speech

    October 5, 2016

    U.S. News & World Report recently released its annual rankings of the “Best Colleges” for 2017. The rankings are based on a multitude of “indicators of academic excellence” that prospective students use to narrow down their college application lists, including graduation and retention rate, financial resources, the institution’s reputation, and student selectivity. But U.S. News’ ranking system fails aspiring students by overlooking one of the most important factors students should consider when choosing a college or university: whether the institution is committed to free speech. FIRE has revisited these rankings to answer that very question. And over the next few […]

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  • Due Process Legal Update: More Students’ Lawsuits Move Forward

    April 11, 2016

    Since OCR issued its April 4, 2011, “Dear Colleague” letter, more than 90 students have brought lawsuits alleging they were denied a fair hearing in campus sexual assault proceedings. When I wrote my first update on how these lawsuits were faring, I characterized them as an “uphill battle” for plaintiffs. While the atmosphere for these plaintiffs is still uncertain, however, the landscape has begun to change for the better. Just last month, I wrote about several new decisions that allowed accused-student plaintiffs’ claims against their universities to move forward. And in the five weeks since that writing, there have been […]

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  • Yiannopoulos Invitation Leads USC Student Government to Strip Senator of Stipend

    March 31, 2016

    University of Southern California (USC) student senator Ellenhorn defeated an attempt to impeach him for his role in arranging a campus lecture featuring Milo Yiannopoulos, Breitbart’s controversial tech editor, but was stripped of his final stipend payment by a 9–2 vote by his fellow student senators. Ellenhorn faced three impeachment charges as result of inviting Yiannopoulos. According to USC Annenberg Media, charges alleged that Ellenhorn: “did not utilize the proper procedures when scheduling meetings with students who felt offended by the Women’s Student Assembly,” “violate[d] the USC Code of Ethics by bringing in Milo Yiannopoulos, a speaker who perpetuated inflammatory […]

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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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