Loyal Torch readers will likely remember with lingering outrage the plight of former student radio shock jock Jason Antebi. Occidental College’s concerted efforts to ruin Antebi’s academic career unquestionably rank among the worst abuses of student rights we’ve ever seen here at FIRE—so bad, in fact, that it took us ten separate blog entries here on The Torch to document what we accurately described as “Occidental College’s Ongoing Shame.” To our lasting disappointment, the case seemed to have ended completely unsatisfactorily—at least for those who believe in freedom of expression on campus.
After all, when last we reported on the case, Antebi’s alma mater, Occidental College, seemed to have gotten away with its unconscionable use of harassment charges to suppress Antebi’s protected on-air speech. Antebi had brought suit against Occidental alleging a violation of California’s Leonard Law, which guarantees students at private colleges the same rights to free expression as enjoyed by public school students under the First Amendment and California constitution. Unfortunately, after a protracted court battle, the California Supreme Court denied Antebi’s petition for review last September, thus preserving a lower court’s ruling that Antebi was without standing to sue under the Leonard Law because he had already graduated at the time he brought suit.
Besides denying Antebi a hearing on the merits of his free speech claims, dismissing Antebi’s petition on such a questionable technicality makes the ruling especially frustrating because interpreting the Leonard Law to prohibit suits from students no longer enrolled provides schools with an incredibly large loophole to punish unwanted student speech. Under this reading of the law, a school wishing to punish protected speech could conceivably punish a student speaker directly prior to graduation, or simply expel the student, thereby denying the student the protection of the Leonard Law by dint of her no longer being enrolled at the time of filing. Further, the court’s interpretation of the law directly contravenes the legislative intent of former California State Senator Bill Leonard, the law’s author and namesake.
However, despite the setbacks and disappointments, Antebi is soldiering on. Advancing his case largely by himself, Antebi continues to try his case against Occidental. Of course, FIRE supports Antebi’s continuing fight for justice. We’ll keep you posted.
Schools: Occidental College