The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

USC Dismisses Charges Against Professor Who Said Hamas Should Be Killed


From the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) (assembled from the Twitter thread, with some nonsubstantive modifications):

USC has just dismissed charges against a professor who was filmed telling a group of protesters last fall, "Hamas are murderers. That's all they are. Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are."

Following the on-campus exchange last November, students launched an online petition and filed formal complaints calling for Prof. John Strauss's termination, accusing him of discrimination, harassment, and fostering an unsafe environment. USC spent 7 months "investigating" the <2-minute exchange caught on film and finally determined Strauss did not engage in discrimination or harassment, and his conduct did not create a hostile environment.

USC's policies promise to protect faculty speech from institutional censorship or discipline — even when others disagree or feel offended. But for Prof. Strauss, voicing his opinion got him a 1mo. campus ban and a 7mo. investigation. While we're thrilled to learn Prof. Strauss won't face additional sanctions for his speech, it's important to remember that a 7-month investigation based on clearly protected political speech is enough to chill speech for both Strauss and the larger USC community.

Colleges and universities must strive to be places of free inquiry, open dialogue, and rigorous debate. When Strauss directly engaged with protesters sharing a message he disagreed with, he was embodying — not undermining — that goal.

For more details on the underlying incident, see this post.