(NEW YORK)— The University of Southern California’s decision to bar Professor John Strauss from teaching on campus for the remainder of the fall 2023 semester is “a shocking overreaction,” says PEN America.

This decision was made in response to a statement Strauss made on November 10 while walking by a vigil held on the USC campus for Palestinians killed in the current Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. In a verbal encounter with students, Strauss was recorded saying, “Hamas are murderers, that’s all they are. Everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are.” One widely circulated version of the video contains only the phrase “Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are,” which sparked a public outcry.  According to the university, Strauss is not on administrative leave but is not allowed on campus for the remainder of the semester, and must only contact students virtually.

“Totally barring a professor from campus because of a passing comment like this is a shocking overreaction. Regardless of Professor Strauss’s intent, he is entitled to his views and the right to share them,” said Jonathan Friedman, director of free expression and education programs at PEN America. “It is no doubt a challenging time for campuses and we recognize that words may feel especially menacing in this environment. But it is exactly because of rising tensions that universities must resist the urge to place limits on speech or dole out punishments for comments that do not rise to the level of clear threats or incitement. Censuring professors for their political views is highly inappropriate and runs the risk of chilling free expression in higher education, for all. What USC has done runs counter to the university’s obligation to foster dialogue and debate.”

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. To learn more visit PEN.org.

Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057