USC Policy on Free Speech

USC has long had established policies protecting the free speech rights and academic freedom of faculty and students.

In both policy and practice, when USC faculty speak or write as citizens, they are free of institutional censorship or discipline.  And academic freedom at USC protects all faculty. We vigorously defend these principles for faculty of every status and type of appointment.

As the Faculty Handbook declares, the University recognizes that students are exposed to thought-provoking ideas as part of their educational experience, and some of these ideas may challenge their beliefs and may lead a student to claim that an educational experience is offensive.  Therefore any such issues that arise in the educational context will be considered in keeping with the University’s commitment to academic freedom.

Our Board of Trustees long ago declared that members of our academic community share the purpose of the humane and critical examination of major issues of social, political, economic, ethical and aesthetic importance which have in the past confronted, and which will in the coming years constantly confront, the society as a whole.  The Trustees also recognized the responsibility of members of our community to understand the spectrum of viewpoints on an issue, and, equally, to be actively involved in the solution of the problems these issues delineate.  For these reasons, our Trustees mandated that students and student organizations shall be free to examine and discuss all questions of interest to them and to express opinions publicly and privately.

Our longstanding policies also declare that 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 — 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.  The university is a diverse community based on free exchange of ideas and devoted to the use of reason and thought in the resolution of differences.  The university recognizes the crucial importance of preserving First Amendment rights and maintaining open communication and dialogue in the process of identifying and resolving problems which arise in the dynamics of life in a university community.

The legitimate expression of differing opinions and concerns, including unpopular, controversial or dissident viewpoints, is an essential element of the academic process.  The imposition of opinions and concerns upon those who in turn dissent from them is not to be condoned and is inconsistent with a university’s process and function.  Students and student organizations are free to support causes by all orderly means which do not disrupt or substantially interfere with university activities, as such disruption or interference violates the responsible exercise of free inquiry and expression.  All members of the university community have a responsibility to provide and maintain an atmosphere of free inquiry and expression respecting the fundamental human rights of others, the rights of others based upon the nature of the educational process and the rights of the institution.