A Closer Look at USC Professor John Strauss

The University of Southern California (USC) Professor John Strauss’ Nov. 9 confrontation with students protesting Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip resulted in USC Provost Andrew Guzman initially banning him from campus. Strauss’s interactions with the students were brief, concluding with his declaration that “Hamas are murderers. That’s all they are. Everyone should be killed, and I hope that all are killed.”

They should be, though captured would suffice.

Strauss is a tenured Professor of Economics, a specialist in development economics, and Editor-in-Chief of the journal, Economic Development and Cultural Change. He is an internationalist who rejects large-scale ambush massacres, gang rapes, and hostage takings as tools of statecraft.

The protesters used smartphones to record their exchange with Strauss, who is Jewish. Strauss’s anti-Hamas remarks angered the protesters, so they worked to cancel him.

First, they posted snips of Strauss’s comments edited to suppress Strauss’s reference to Hamas. Postings were frequently accompanied by misleading captions implying that Strauss was calling for the deaths of Palestinians generally, or even the protesters. Subsequent postings provided by Jewish counter-protesters exposed these manipulations.

Second, protesting students complained to USC’s Office of Equity, Equal Opportunity (EEO), and Title IX (TIX) that Strauss’s public position was somehow a form of harassment directed at them.

USC’s administrative response was swift. On Nov. 10, Strauss was told he was on administrative leave under section 8D of the USC Faculty Handbook, barred from campus, and told he could not continue instruction in his fall semester undergraduate course. He could deliver his doctoral course, but only remotely.

Over the next three weeks, the administration walked back its response. An official statement to USC’s student newspaper reports that Strauss is not technically on administrative leave even though required to teach remotely. The Los Angeles Times viewed a letter to Strauss from USC Provost Andrew Guzman stating that the university was barring Strauss from campus during their investigation of the protesters’ complaints to the EEO and TIX office. The administration subsequently allowed Strauss to proceed with delivering his undergraduate course remotely. He was allowed to return to campus as of Dec 2.

The U.S. Department of Education required USC to strengthen its Title IX responses to harassment complaints following the prosecution of former USC student health center gynecologist George Tyndall, but the student complaints about Strauss made to USC’s EEO and TIX office are a coordinated abuse of process by students who merely do not like Strauss’s point of view. USC’s leadership should know better than to enable this strategy. The administration could have allowed Strauss to do his work in person while the school reviewed and dismissed these meritless complaints. Banning Strauss from campus handed control of the situation to the students attacking him, violated Strauss’s academic freedom, and subverted USC’s teaching and research missions and reputation. Why did USC do it?

Queried by faculty leaders on Nov. 15 during USC’s Academic Senate meeting, USC’s Provost and President declined to discuss any specifics of Prof. Strauss’ case. Instead, President Folt asserted that—despite the video record—various material aspects of the matter were not public and emphasized the importance of taking any steps necessary to maintain physical safety on campus, implying that this was the rationale for banning Strauss.

Many progressives declare that statements with which they disagree are violence directed against them. Except for incitement, actual threats, fighting words, and a few other examples of unprotected speech; language, and ideas carry no risk of harm that a university should be trying to manage. Still, many students claim a right to feel safe.

No one has a right to feel anything in particular, but the premise that words are violent and thus unsafe tempts progressive university leaders like USC President Carol Folt to use these sentiments as rationales for hobbling faculty members with whom they disagree. Banishing Strauss for the sake of safety without first placing him on administrative leave creates a new mechanism by which USC can punish faculty members.

In Strauss’ case, it is unclear whose safety was at stake. Was it his or the students he responded to at the pro-Palestinian protest or the students filing weaponized EEO and Title IX complaints against him? Was it the safety of the USC campus community at large? The answer is “none of the above” because Folt’s safety rationale is specious.

USC’s Academic Senate reports that less than a third of USC’s full-time faculty are tenured or probationary tenure-track personnel. The rest are teaching or research faculty on short-term contracts. USC’s complement of part-time teachers is as large as this full-time, nontenure track group, which leaves only a fifth of USC’s total faculty with the academic freedom protections afforded by the tenure system. Still, USC asserts all faculty members have substantive standing in faculty governance, a contrived claim allowing the administration to position all faculty members as managers, and thus ineligible to unionize under current case law.

Strauss is the kind of academic voice that progressive university administrators and student mobs fear most—a traditional, tenured, knowledgeable, principled faculty member with a spine. Temporarily restricting Strauss from campus was, more than anything else, an opportunity for President Folt to operationalize a fresh mechanism for bringing USC’s dwindling complement of tenured faculty further to heel. USC punished Strauss as a lesson to others like him.

Photo by BKP — Adobe Stock — Asset ID#: 222311457


  • James E. Moore, II

    James E. Moore, II is an Emeritus Professor at the University of Southern California, where he was appointed in the Price School of Public Policy, the Astani Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, and the Epstein Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering. He served as founding director of the Transportation Engineering program, director of the Systems Architecting & Engineering program, department chair, vice dean for Academic Programs, and chair of the Engineering Faculty Council for three terms.

3 thoughts on “A Closer Look at USC Professor John Strauss

  1. “Instead, President Folt asserted that—despite the video record—various material aspects of the matter were not public and emphasized the importance of taking any steps necessary to maintain physical safety on campus, implying that this was the rationale for banning Strauss.”

    That very likely is true, but for a very different reason…

    I’ve been warning for 15 years that it was only a matter of time before the Orwellian “Behavioral Intervention Teams” started going after faculty as well, and I think that is exactly what happened here — and that’s what President Folt can’t talk about…

    First, USC has an “Office of Threat Assessment and Management”, the mission of which is to “provide proactive collaborative oversight and support to the University in the identification, assessment and management of threats and/or threatening behavior that may lead to acts of targeted violence against the USC campus and community.”

    Their website is here: https://cwci.usc.edu/threat-assessment/

    Second, the BITs believe in the concept of “Cognitive Aggression” — that the individual who does not modify his beliefs & values to conform with those of the group is inherently dangerous. They literally believe that such an individual will inexorably and inevitably progress from verbal disagreements to mass murder — that he will become “the next Virginia Tech Shooter.”

    This is what is meant by “assist redirection toward healthy, appropriate behavior” — to either force Professor Strauss to love Hamas or exclude him from the campus because otherwise (and they honestly believe this), he’ll be showing up next week with an AR-15. So what if he’s never fired a gun in his life and is more likely to shoot himself than anyone else — imagine someone who’s never driven a car and knows nothing of the vehicle laws out on a busy freeway…

    All they know about guns comes from Hollywood and they don’t realize that highly-trained police officers, firing at relatively close range, still miss 60% to 80% of the time. They quote how many bullets per minute a fully automatic weapon could fire without realizing that (a) private ownership of fully automatic weapons has been essentially illegal since the 1930s and (b) if you only have 20-30 bullets in the gun, that’s all you can fire. (There also would be issues of the barrel overheating if you *had* a few hundred bullets to rapidly fire.)

    More importantly, the people staffing these BITs are not “small ‘l'” “liberals.” They do not believe in the unique value of the individual — they commingle the personal and the political, they *would* kill someone to advance a good cause and hence believe that we would as well. Hence Professor Strauss confronting the Hamas Fan Club means that his next step will be to murder them because they don’t see the hard line between words and bullets. They don’t see the distinction and that’s how speech becomes “violence.”

    I have no doubt that USC’s Office of Threat Assessment & Management was given a quite biased version of what really happened and that’s another problem with the BITs — who does and does not have access to them and how that affects how the star chamber rules when the accused is not even given the opportunity to present his side of the story.

    But the bigger problem is that the secrecy of these star chambers makes them echo chambers, and they often reach conclusions without actually stating them. Conclusions which would never stand in the light of day — or even if the persons they are made about had an opportunity to confront them.

    The bleep would hit the fan if USC came out and said that it believed that Professor Strauss was going to go murder the Students for Palestine. He’d likely sue, FIRE and the NAS would respond, and the AAUP and the ACLU might as well. This is the sort of thing that gets administrators fired.

    But emphasizing the importance of taking any steps necessary to maintain physical safety on campus — even though it means the exact same thing — is something they will get away with. Not only is it impossible to prove that you won’t ever do something but even more impossible when you don’t even know what it is alleged you might do. That’s why the 6th Amendment includes the right “..to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation…” and it’s the problem here.

    And then there’s the larger issue that declaring someone mentally ill nullifies everything the person says in his defense. The Soviets understood this which is why they developed the concept of “Sluggishly Progressing Schizophrenia” which they used to silence dissidents. A half century later, American academia is using the same tactic to silence its dissidents.

    “[A] traditional, tenured, knowledgeable, principled faculty member with a spine” is the exact type of person that the BIT is going to target. Merely having a spine makes one a threat to public safety, and that’s how far down the rabbit hole we have gone since 2007.

    There is one other thing here — on October 8, 1997, the US Department of State formally declared Hamas to be a “Foreign Terrorist Organization.” See: https://www.state.gov/foreign-terrorist-organizations/ While USC is a private institution, it receives enough Federal research money to have an overhead rate (see: https://dcg.usc.edu/getting-started-2/proposal-rates-at-a-glance/) — and its students receive Federal financial aid.

    While more than a few professors belonged to it, the CPUSA could not openly meet on college campi in the 1950s. At what point does what is going on campi today become “giving material support to a designated terrorist organization”?

    It’s one thing for USC to permit the Hamas Fan Club to exist and spread their vile messages, but something else to excommunicate a professor who is critical of them. At what point does silencing their critics become “material aid and support”?

  2. USC knows that it can best avoid trouble by keeping the pro-Hamas faction happy. There is very little price to pay for persecuting one pro-Israel professor, tenured or not. When the pro-Israeli facion is willing to cause as much trouble for USC as the pro-Hamas faction is, there will be more even-handedness on the part of USC.

    1. But USC has no intention of letting a pro-Israeli faction — look at what they did to a tenured professor for, essentially, restating US State Department policy.

      This is the real sinister aspect of the BITs: “Normal” is defined as “people like us” with “abnormal” being defined as people who aren’t. So you take a bunch of administrators who believe that HAMAS are the good guys and they rationally conclude that anyone who supports Israel is insane. Crazy and therefore dangerous — and must be excluded from the group lest the individual infects others. Contagious….

      Woke administrators actually make sense if you understand the Puritans — except that the Puritans existed before The Enlightenment — and the administrators have enough education to know better. Tho only solution is going to be a wholesale cleanout of administrators– and their staffs…

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