Occidental College’s Ongoing Shame: Part 1

By on March 1, 2005

One year ago this month, Occidental College radio show host Jason Antebi hosted his popular radio show Rant and Rave for the very last time. In this last show he mocked two student representatives who had previously tried to have him impeached from his student government position. The student representatives filed sexual harassment charges against him, the dean of students fired him from his radio show over the objections of the radio station’s student management, and the College found him guilty of violating federal sexual harassment laws.

As shocking as this turn of events may be, it is hardly novel on college campuses. Cases like those at the University of New Hampshire, U Mass Amherst, and Rhode Island College demonstrate that the abuse of harassment allegations to stifle speech is all too common.

What distinguishes this case, however, is the corrupt and dishonest campaign the university launched to defend its actions. After FIRE wrote Oxy President Ted Mitchell on March 30, the University Counsel responded on April 2 with a letter making some astonishing and serious allegations. Antebi was apparently a ferocious racist, a criminal, a vandal who was responsible for creating a climate of fear on campus so serious that women were “unable to concentrate, sleep, or even walk across campus without fear.”

These are very serious accusations and I was, indeed, humbled by this letter. FIRE is always open to the possibility that there may be facts we were unaware of that may change our view of the case. But when I started to look into it, I quickly realized that accusation after accusation was simply and obviously false. We wrote a 28-page letter in response, which opens with the following conclusions:

1) The factual assertions made in your April 2 letter grossly and systemically misrepresent the facts of this case.

2) The sexual harassment claims against Antebi are baseless. Antebi’s speech was not in fact unprotected harassment, but rather fully protected speech under the First Amendment and California’s “Leonard Law,” which binds Occidental College.

3) Occidental’s legal errors and factual misrepresentations were so gross that they are either intentional or are part of an unlikely series of extraordinary errors that coincidentally supported the college’s claim that it has engaged in no wrongdoing in its behavior towards Antebi.

4) If (as appears likely) these false statements were intentional, then this series of factual misrepresentations, baseless accusations, and legal distortions were likely an attempt to deter groups like FIRE and the ACLU from aiding Antebi in this case.

5) Far from succeeding, this strategy has only made FIRE more committed to protecting the rights of students on Occidental’s campus from these extraordinary abuses of power. These abuses are made all the more extraordinary by the fact that they have been aided and abetted by you, an attorney, constrained not only by the requirements of academic freedom but also by the ethical codes of our profession.

If you would like to understand how serious this case is I highly recommend taking a look at this (admittedly very long) letter.

And what happened next, you may ask? Stay tuned as I continue to relay the facts of this remarkable and extensive case throughout the month.

Schools: Rhode Island College University of New Hampshire University of Massachusetts – Amherst Occidental College