USC Cancels Jon M. Chu and Billie Jean King as Featured Guests for Graduation

USC Cancels Jon M. Chu and Billie Jean King as Featured Guests for Graduation


The University of Southern California, reeling after a controversy over its valedictorian selection, announced Friday that its main commencement program would eliminate outside speakers and honorees, including the director of “Crazy Rich Asians,” Jon M. Chu, and the tennis star Billie Jean King.

The private university in Los Angeles broke with tradition this week by announcing that its valedictorian, Asna Tabassum, a first-generation Muslim student, would not deliver a commencement address on May 10, a decision that came after campus Jewish organizations objected to her selection.

The student groups, including Trojans for Israel, cited a pro-Palestinian social media link by Ms. Tabassum, who is of South Asian ancestry. After the groups announced their opposition, the university said it received a barrage of communications indicating that the commencement would be disrupted.

While the university cited security concerns for canceling the speech, Ms. Tabassum, a biomedical engineering major, said in a statement that she was “shocked” and “profoundly disappointed” by the decision. And she questioned the school’s motivation.

“There remain serious doubts about whether U.S.C.’s decision to revoke my invitation to speak is made solely on the basis of safety,” she said.

After the decision to cancel her speech, the administration has faced several of days of protests calling for Ms. Tabassum’s reinstatement as a speaker.

The U.S.C. announcement on Friday followed inquiries by The New York Times as to whether Mr. Chu, an alumnus, might withdraw as the graduation speaker because of the controversy. By the end of the day, the university had removed his name and photo from its commencement website. And it announced that he and other speakers were “being released.”

“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.”

Mr. Chu and Ms. King could not be reached for comment.

Earlier this week, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said it was looking into the possibility of representing Ms. Tabassum in a lawsuit against the university, citing a California statute known as the Leonard Law, which applies First Amendment free speech protections to private and public colleges in the state.

An A.C.L.U. lawyer in Los Angeles, Mohammad Tajsar, said that U.S.C. has a formidable private security apparatus that should be able to handle such an event, even with security concerns.

“If the university can accommodate speeches by Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos and host President Obama and the King of Jordan at its graduations, surely it can bear whatever burden comes with celebrating Asna Tabassum as its valedictorian,” Mr. Tajsar said.



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