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Occidental College President Steps Down

Ted Mitchell, president of Occidental College in Los Angeles, officially announced yesterday that he will be stepping down. While he obviously makes no mention of the free speech controversy involving Jason Antebi that marred the last year and a half of his tenure, and doubtlessly would deny that it had anything to do with his decision, one must wonder. Mitchell certainly bungled that case and brought a great deal of negative publicity Oxy’s way. That means two of the major actors in Jason Antebi’s case have stepped down (President Mitchell and Dean Ayala, who fired Antebi from his radio show in the first place). Still, Sandra Cooper, to my knowledge, remains Oxy’s general counsel. Alums, donors, and trustees should recognize that if it was not for Cooper’s attempts to mislead groups like FIRE and the ACLU of Southern California out of coming to Antebi’s aid, the current multimillion-dollar lawsuit and press campaign likely would not have taken place. As I wrote in my first blog about Oxy: 

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.

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