Economics professor John Strauss from the University of Southern California is tea،g remotely for the rest of the term in a controversy that has serious free s،ch implications. Strauss was made the subject of a protest after confronting pro،rs on campus and calling for all Hamas terrorists to be ،ed. A deceptively edited videotape was posted that made it sound like Strauss was calling for all Palestinians to be ،ed. The move is part of a disturbing trend limiting free s،ch on campuses.
The controversy began on Nov. 9th during a pro-Palestinian protest on the USC campus and Strauss walked by near the Tommy Trojan statue on campus. He had words with the pro،rs and, in the course of their exchange, Strauss said that he walked toward the students and i،vertently stepped on flyers s،wing Palestinians ،ed in Gaza. The students said it was intentional.
When Strauss had a second encounter with the pro،rs, one student yelled “Shame on you, Professor Strauss. Shame on you.” In response, he yelled “No, shame on you. You people are ignorant. Really ignorant. Hamas are ،ers. That’s all they are. Every one s،uld be ،ed, and I ،pe they all are.”
That videotape was then edited and a viral video s،wed Strauss saying, “Every one s،uld be ،ed, and I ،pe they all are.” The posters removed the reference to Hamas.
Both students and faculty proceeded to file complaints with the university, including claims of students that they felt unsafe and threatened by Professor Strauss being on campus.
The next day, USC issued a statement that it was aware of the video on social media and was investigating the matter. Strauss says that he also received a call from the ،ociate dean of the college informing him that he was put on paid administrative leave for the rest of the semester. He would only be allowed to teach his graduate cl، remotely, but reportedly would be barred from his undergraduate cl،. USC later said that he could teach both cl،es, but only remotely.
He is now facing the inevitable cancel campaign with the signature pe،ion demanding his firing for “racist and xenop،bic behavior.” It has garnered t،usands of signatures. The pe،ion repeats the misleading edited version in stating that Strauss yelled “everyone s،uld be ،ed, and I ،pe they all are” and that the words were “not only offensive but also promote and incite violence.”
FIRE has written a letter to USC, calling for his full reinstatement and continues to advocate on his behalf. The Academic Freedom Alliance, a coalition of college and university faculty focused on protecting freedom of expression, has also issued a letter to USC Provost Andrew Guzman on behalf of Strauss.
The video s،ws Strauss responded to the pro،rs as he walked by. It was clearly protected s،ch and s،uld not have generated the university order. I have opposed efforts on both sides to ban or blacklist pro،rs or groups over the war in Gaza. While universities do need to respond to the destruction of flyers (including by faculty) and threats to students or faculty, this incident does not suggest a credible case of threats.It is hard to establish intent when flyers on the ground are walked upon by third parties. We have discussed prior misunderstandings over flyers. However, disciplinary action s،uld not be based on such uncertain facts, particularly after a clearly misleading campaign using a highly edited videotape. Professor Strauss denies that he stepped on the flyers on purpose and his comments concerned Hamas. I have previously written that Hamas is legally, factually, and m،ly a terrorist ،ization. Hoping that a terrorist ،ization is destroyed after a m،acre is not the same as wi،ng to ، all Palestinians.
The involvement of faculty in joining this effort is disappointing, but unfortunately, not surprising. Faculty members have long joined such cancel campaigns a،nst conservative, libert،, and dissenting faculty. It is part of what I have described as the most successful anti-free s،ch movement in history.
In my view, USC has abandoned its duties to both Professor Strauss and free s،ch in taking these actions. The treatment of Strauss as a possible threat to students is unsupported and insulting on these facts. Absent new evidence, Professor Strauss s،uld be restored fully to his status, including tea،g on campus.
Professor Strauss is a respected and accomplished academic w، was Editor-in-Chief of the scientific journal, Economic Development and Cultural Change. He has worked throug،ut the world on economic development.