MPAC Denounces USC’s Suppression of Free Speech and Academic Freedom

April 15, 2024 Updated May 14, 2024 Statements

Washington, D.C. | | April 15, 2024 — The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is outraged by the University of Southern California’s (USC) decision to cancel the valedictorian speech at this year’s commencement. The verdict came after pressure from pro-Israel critics who have harassed Asna Tabassum, the 2024 valedictorian, online for her support of Palestine. USC cites security threats to Tabassum and others attending if she were to speak. The exclusion of a student leader from a role she has earned on the basis of academic and personal merit infringes on academic freedoms, and is emblematic of a broader assault on free speech, targeting voices that advocate for Palestinian rights. 

Such actions by USC betray the essence of higher education as a space for free inquiry and the exchange of diverse perspectives. Rather than safeguarding students and their freedoms, USC has chosen to silence them. The university’s capitulation to external pressures from political groups undermines its own stated commitments to these ideals, sending a clear message to students: conform to the prevailing narrative or face silencing. 

This trend is not isolated. Nationwide, students advocating for Palestinian rights face undue censorship and are subjected to harassment and institutional pushback under the guise of maintaining order or neutrality. These institutional actions not only contravene the spirit of the First Amendment but also betray the fundamental principles of academic freedom and the robust exchange of ideas that universities are bound to uphold.

We urge USC and other institutions to reconsider their role as guardians of free speech and academic integrity. Upholding true academic freedom means protecting the rights of all students to share their views without fear of retribution or censorship. The integrity of our educational institutions depends on their steadfast commitment to these values.

We ask that you support Asna by signing the petition linked here urging the USC administration to reverse their decision to cancel her valedictorian speech.

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