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 and student protests because of the use of vulgar language. The Daily Trojan, USC’s student newspaper, reported that Marquez said, “We don’t want to offend anyone.”

Although Marquez was not following any written policy, his actions, taken in his official capacity as a USC administrator, risked impermissibly chilling speech on USC’s campus.

After FIRE wrote a letter to USC to express our concern with Marquez’s unjustified actions, Vice President for Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson wrote an open letter to the USC community. He wrote:

A very unfortunate mistake in judgment was made that called into question one of the most fundamental tenets of a university community; freedom of speech and its special place in promoting discussion, inquiry, and the exchange of ideas.

All members of a campus community need to remain vigilant. Whether the school is a “red light” or a “green light,” public or private, secular or religious, everyone on campus should know his rights and fight to protect those rights.

Schools:  University of Southern California