Occidental College Ruthlessly Suppresses Free Speech

Just received a press release from FIRE:

Occidental College Ruthlessly Suppresses Free Speech
Censors Student Radio Host, Dissolves Student Government

LOS ANGELES, July 15, 2004—Showing profound contempt for free speech, Occidental College in Los Angeles has fired the student host of a popular student radio program and found him guilty of sexual harassment due to satirical jokes made on the air. Occidental also used this controversy as a pretext for the unprecedented decision to dissolve its entire student government and assume control of nearly half a million dollars in funds from student fees. Occidental then began a campaign of false accusations and distortions to justify, after the fact, its illiberal actions. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which has spearheaded the defense of student radio host Jason Antebi since he was removed from his show last March, has formed a national coalition of organizations and is launching a public campaign to oppose Occidental’s outrageous actions.

“Occidental’s ruthless and corrupt actions are without parallel,” said Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy. “Censorship is bad enough. Baselessly implying that a student had committed serious offenses in a cynical and dishonest attempt to scare off those who might aid him is worse. Using the controversy as an excuse to dissolve the entire student government is beyond the pale. Occidental must not be allowed to get away with what it has done.”

Numerous national organizations have joined FIRE in condemning Occidental’s actions against Jason Antebi, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, the Student Press Law Center, and Students for Academic Freedom. Read the ACLU’s letter in support of Antebi here. [463 KB PDF]

Antebi had hosted a popular radio show on Occidental’s student radio station for three years. The show, “Rant and Rave,” was a forum for political parody and provocative humor. The program frequently mocked Occidental’s administration, its student government, and various political and social causes. Antebi was also a vice president in Occidental’s student government, where he was highly critical of various administrative decisions.

In response to Antebi’s biting on-air satire, three students filed sexual harassment complaints against him in March 2004. Two of his accusers were student government rivals who had unsuccessfully tried to have him recalled from office on different grounds earlier in the year. In their complaints, the offended students claimed that Antebi’s show promoted “disrespect and slander” against “women, diversity, and Occidental College” and thus constituted a form of punishable “hostile environment” harassment. Occidental administrators then fired Antebi from his radio show despite objections by the radio station’s student management. Antebi contacted FIRE, which quickly wrote a letter on his behalf, pointing out that “none of [the accusers] state a single claim that would transform Mr. Antebi’s speech from fully protected provocative speech to unprotected harassment.”

On March 30, amidst the controversy over Antebi’s show, Occidental College President Ted Mitchell announced his decision to dissolve the student government. While Mitchell did not refer to Jason Antebi by name, virtually all of the reasons he gave for closing down the student government were directly related to the Antebi controversy. Then, on April 12, Occidental found Antebi guilty of “sexual and gender hostile environment harassment,” ignoring both the college’s promises to defend free speech and California’s “Leonard Law,” which guarantees free speech to students at private colleges and universities in California.

Read more here.

About Kevin

Kevin Jarnot is a technologist who lives just South of Boston, MA. He is currently employed as Chief Technology Officer at Micronotes, an AI-driven conversation-marketing company based in Boston, MA.
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