As FIRE approaches our tenth anniversary in 2009, it’s fitting to revisit the most important cases that we’ve taken during the past decade. Every month, I’ll delve deep into our archives to highlight some of our most memorable defenses of individual rights on campus.
To start, let’s consider one of FIRE’s most notorious cases: that of Occidental College student radio “shock jock” Jason Antebi.
While attending Occidental College, Antebi had been the host of a college radio show entitled “Rant and Rave.” The show had a reputation for frequently mocking both the administration and the student government, of which Antebi was a member. In March of 2004, after making a series of sharply satirical comments on-air, Antebi was found guilty of sexual harassment and subsequently fired from the radio station. Had the facts of the case ended there, it would have been disgraceful but all too familiar. Yet the series of events that followed made Antebi’s case one of the worst abuses of student rights FIRE has ever seen.
After receiving an inital letter from FIRE detailing the ways in which Antebi’s punishment was a violation of his expressive rights (which are guaranteed to private university students in California by the state’s Leonard Law), Occidental responded with a series of blatant distortions of facts and unfounded accusations. In fact, Oxy’s response was so wildly inaccurate that FIRE not only issued a press release exposing Occidental’s conduct in the Antebi case, but Greg Lukianoff, then FIRE’s Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, further replied with a 28-page letter debunking Occidental’s claims. Greg also penned a 10-part blog series entitled “Occidental College’s Ongoing Shame” explaining the school’s myriad deceptions. Following a similar pattern to the old woman who swallowed the fly, Occidental’s administration soon dissolved the entire student government and thereby took direct control of nearly a half million dollars that was intended for student activities.
After three years of bitter disputes with Occidental both in and out of court, the case was finally settled in October of 2007. Antebi was satisfied with the resolution of the case, saying, “[w]ith regard to the settlement, I can’t say much, but I will say that I am very happy with the outcome.” He went on, “It is clear to me that Occidental used the controversy surrounding my show as a pretense for dissolving the student government. I believe FIRE’s original investigation into this is dead-on accurate. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that many of those named in the lawsuit are no longer employed by Occidental College.”
Jason Antebi’s case is a testament to the importance of perseverance. Despite multiple setbacks from the administration and the legal system, both Antebi and FIRE were persistent and eventually prevailed. Though, amazingly, this case is arguably no longer the worst case in FIRE’s history, it’s a good sign that even the messiest of cases can have a positive outcome.