In my previous installments I recounted Occidental College in Los Angeles’ remarkable attempts to punish student Jason Antebi for his speech, and its administrators’ truly stunning attempts to justify that punishment after the fact. In today’s installment we will cover another shocking side of the Oxy case: the administration’s use of the controversy around Jason Antebi as an excuse to dissolve the student government.
On March 30, 2004, Occidental President Ted Mitchell announced that he had decided to dissolve ASOC (Associated Students of Occidental College—the Occidental College student government). As justification for this dissolution, he described various “examples of abusive, intimidating, harassing behavior that have no place on our campus” that were “masquerading as open expression,” as well as “an unacceptable number of complaints and cross complaints involving ASOC officials.” Although President Mitchell did not cite Jason Antebi by name, almost all of the reasons Mitchell gave for closing down ASOC related to the college’s accusations against Antebi. The dissolution of the student government means that the college administration has taken over some $441,000 in student fees that would usually be administered by the students’ elected representatives.
Jason Antebi, and his accusers, you see, were all members of the student government and therefore, in Oxy’s strange logic, Jason’s words somehow justified dissolving the entire institution. His accusers in student government, in fact, had tried to have Jason impeached prior to filing sexual harassment charges against him. I have always found odd Oxy’s attempts to paint his accusers as helpless, wronged parties when they were student representatives who were perfectly capable of playing hardball. I suspect the harassment allegations were just one example of how hard these students were willing to play.
Dissolving the student government for any reason is a virtually unprecedented step, in my experience. As I have pointed out many times, Kent State at the height of the riots and violence did not even dissolve its student government. What kind of example does Oxy want to give to its students? Is Oxy trying to prepare students for life in a pluralistic democracy, or a puppet dictatorship with contempt for the rule of law?
Oxy’s despotic decision apparently came after a year of the student government’s trying to gain independence from the administration. In fact, the student government tried to incorporate itself, reportedly with much resistance from the administration.
The administration wasn’t content with merely dissolving the student government. It decided that any future student government should have a whole new constitution and put together a committee of unelected students to draft the new document.
The dissolution of the student government was presented as a “temporary” step, to allow for a “cooling off” period, but nearly one year later there is still no student government at Oxy. Pretty long cooling off period, huh?
Now that we have covered the essential elements of the case readers may understand why the title of our July 15, 2004, press release on the case was “Occidental College Ruthlessly Suppresses Free Speech: Censors Student Radio Host, Dissolves Student Government.” While FIRE is unapologetically frank in its criticism of colleges and universities that violate their students’ rights, we seldom use words like “ruthless” and “corrupt.” This case justified all of those terms, and then some.
In my next installment: Oxy (and Sandy Cooper) publicly insults the ACLU of Southern California! Stay tuned.