USC Cancels Commencement Speakers Amid Valedictorian Controversy

(Bloomberg) -- The University of Southern California scrapped all outside speakers from its upcoming commencement ceremonies, following backlash over an earlier decision to cancel a speech by the Class of 2024’s valedictorian.

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The announcement Friday afternoon came as protests escalated at the school’s campus in Los Angeles after school officials canceled an address by the student, Asna Tabassum, following complaints by a pro-Israel group that she had engaged in antisemitism in social media posts.

“Given the highly publicized circumstances surrounding our main-stage commencement program, university leadership has decided it is best to release our outside speakers and honorees from attending this year’s ceremony,” the university said in a statement Friday. “It’s important that our full attention be on our remarkable graduates.”

On Monday, USC officials cited safety considerations in canceling Tabassum’s planned address. They denied that the decision was related to concerns over her social media posts criticizing Israel and supporting Palestinians. Tabassum, who is Muslim and of South Asian heritage, accused the university of abandoning her in a statement posted on the website of the Los Angeles chapter of the Council on American-Islamic relations.

Read More: USC Bars Pro-Palestinian Valedictorian Speech, Citing Safety

A petition to reinstate Tabassum garnered 38,000 signatures, according to the student newspaper, the Daily Trojan, and hundreds of students attended campus protests over the decision.

The keynote speaker at the May 10 ceremony in LA was to have been director Jon M. Chu, an alumnus whose film credits include Crazy Rich Asians. On Friday evening, Chu’s photo had been removed from the commencement website, and replaced with video of students in USC’s red and gold academic regalia.

The controversy at USC comes as part of a wave of unrest at US college campuses over the Israel-Hamas war and the limits of free speech.

More than 100 students were arrested Thursday at Columbia University after school officials called in New York City police to clear a campus demonstration. Columbia’s president testified on Wednesday during a hearing by the House Committee on Education and the Workforce about antisemitism on college campuses.

In December, the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania resigned after testifying before the committee and failing to condemn without reservation antisemitic speech on campus.

Read More: Berkeley Professor Rattled by Antisemitism, Protest at His Home

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