The Bell Tolls for Orange Coast College’s Margaret Gratton: Not the Liberty Bell!

March 15, 2002

COSTA MESA, CA—Margaret A. Gratton, president of Orange Coast College (OCC), has announced that she will step down from her position at the end of the current academic year. As readers familiar with FIRE’s efforts on behalf of OCC Professor Kenneth W. Hearlson know, President Gratton’s tenure at that public institution was irreparably stained by her disregard for academic freedom and due process.

"President Gratton acted indecently at Orange Coast College," said Thor L. Halvorssen, executive director of FIRE. "Due to the scathing media criticism she received for her cowardly treatment of Professor Hearlson, everyone now knows of her disdain for free speech rights and for notions of fundamental fairness."

Professor Hearlson teaches contemporary politics at Orange Coast College. In a class discussion on the evening of September 18, in which he invited all students to join him in speaking their minds frankly, he discussed the recent terrorist attacks and argued that silence on crimes against Jews in the Middle East was consent to terrorism. Several Muslim students complained that Professor Hearlson had called them terrorists, but that accusation was belied by the existence of a full audiotape recording of the class. Nevertheless, without even a formal charge or a hearing, President Gratton promptly ordered Professor Hearlson off the campus. The students who filed the false accusation received no reprimand.

"A college should be a place where students are exposed to a great diversity of ideas, including those that challenge and provoke," said Halvorssen. "President Gratton paid lip service to diversity and multiculturalism, but she forgot that diversity of ideas is at the heart of educational pluralism."

FIRE launched a media campaign to expose President Gratton’s betrayal of academic freedom and due process at her institution. Faced with the sunlight of media coverage and the scrutiny of public opinion, OCC begrudgingly announced Professor Hearlson’s reinstatement to his classroom in December—three months after his punishment and suspension began.

"Margaret Gratton’s lawless administration worked behind the scenes to destroy a professor’s rights and to compromise both the truth and the U.S. Constitution," said Halvorssen. "Gratton’s legacy can only be erased by a successor who is willing to rewrite the College’s sorry record on liberty, individual rights, and due process."

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our campuses.

Contact:

Thor L. Halvorssen, FIRE: 215-717-3473; fire@thefire.org

Margaret Gratton, President, Orange Coast College: 714-432-5712; mgratton@occ.cccd.edu