USC law school faculty sign open letter to Folt supporting students

Law faculty criticize the administration for canceling the valedictorian’s speech and calling in armed police to violently suppress peaceful protest.

Twenty-nine USC Gould School of Law faculty signed onto an open letter to President Carol Folt and Provost Andrew Guzman Saturday supporting “free speech and equal respect for all students.”

“The letter stresses that we could have vindicated our most sacred values in this university,” said Jody Armour, is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of Law at the Gould School of Law, and one of the letter’s signatories. “That is, providing free speech, protecting our students, encouraging them to do the things we teach them to do in the classroom. That is, think critically, be free thinkers and oppose injustice when they see it.”

Faculty condemned the administration’s April 15 decision to cancel valedictorian Asna Tabassum’s speech, which the university said was made due to unspecified security risks. According to the letter, the manner of the cancellation was chilling to future speech.

“It is during difficult times that the freedom of speech is most vital and also most vulnerable to restriction,” the letter read.

And while the signatories acknowledged the right to speak is not unlimited, they condemned the decision, saying that security could have been provided or Tabassum’s speech pre-recorded.

“Censorship is not the only way to provide safety; it unnecessarily gives hecklers a veto,” the letter said.

The faculty also criticized the university for calling the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) April 24 to break up the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, resulting in at least 93 arrests.

“The university also acted contrary to our core values when it called in armed police officers to violently suppress what was, until then, a peaceful protest that occupied a small portion of the campus that did not disrupt day-to-day operations,” the letter said.

The letter stated that the university should have had security nearby to protect peacefully protesting students and community members if it was concerned about student safety or “outside agitators.”

“Instead, the police came in full force and ran roughshod over all students present, created new security risks, and escalated matters,” the letter said. “While we do not doubt the challenges of handling these difficult issues, the university’s decisions have come at a substantial cost to students and faculty, as well as USC’s reputation as a premier research institution founded on intellectual freedom.”

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