Former shock jock sues college for pulling him off the airwaves

October 1, 2005

[This article appeared in the Fall 2005 edition of the SPLC’s quarterly Report.]

CALIFORNIA — Jason Antebi is applying to graduate schools and trying to continue his education after his graduation from Occidental College, but he says his censure by the school for sexual harassment stemming from comments he made on his radio show has made that process difficult.

Antebi sued the college for violating his rights in March under a California statue that protects free expression at private schools, a year after he was fired from his radio show and censured for sexual harassment over his on-air comments.

Antebi’s battles with the school began when he was fired from the radio show in March 2004 for saying on his radio show, “Rant and Rave,” that a member of the student government was a “bearded feminist,” while another was “half man, half vagina.”

According to a press release by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, two of the students named filed an on-campus sexual harassment claim against Antebi. They claimed his show promoted “disrespect and slander” against women and Occidental. He was found guilty by an on-campus judicial board of sexual harassment in April 2004.

Antebi has defended the show, claiming it was typical of the “shock jock” formula of many college radio shows.

Antebi’s lawyer, Craig Englander, said since his dismissal from student radio KOXY, Antebi has suffered anxiety and depression and is seeking $10 million in compensation from the school.

Jim Tranquada, spokesman for Occidental College, declined to comment on the case due to the pending lawsuit.

Will Robedee, chairman of the College Broadcasters Inc., a national organization, said whether a student should be dismissed from the radio station because of their comments depends on what they say and what kind of relationship the station has with the school.

“The stations are accountable and do need to protect themselves from comments that students make on air,” Robedee said. “The best way to do that is through good training and proper supervision.”

The Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has supported Antebi, said his speech is protected.

“People can think his speech was poor and sophomoric or whatever they feel, but for a variety of different reasons, no matter how you feel about it, it seems clear that it’s speech that’s protected,” said Peter Eliasberg, an attorney for the ACLU’s Southern California chapter.

In a response to FIRE posted on their Web site, Occidental General Counsel Sandra Cooper said Antebi’s case was not about whether his First Amendment Rights were violated, but whether the college had to allow him to have the radio show where he produced what she called “hate speech.”

Antebi claims that his speech is protected under California Education Code 9436, commonly known as the Leonard Law, which prohibits private and public colleges from making or enforcing rules that punish students because of their speech or conduct if the speech would be protected outside of the school by the First Amendment.

Antebi’s lawsuit asks for $10 million in compensation, and asks the college to change its policies so another student in Antebi’s position would not be punished.

“We want some kind of change at the school where the administration doesn’t buckle under pressure from affluent students and other pressures,” Englander said.

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Schools: Occidental College Cases: Occidental College: Use of Harassment Charges to Suppress Protected Speech