‘Occidental Offenses’ at National Review Online

September 5, 2006

Be sure to check out Anthony Dick’s insightful article at National Review Online about the ongoing saga of Jason Antebi and Occidental College. For those of you who do not know about the Occidental odyssey, I recommend checking out our unprecedented ten-part blog series, which explains the twists and turns of this truly remarkable case. While the Occidental case started as just another sad example of campus censorship, it quickly escalated into a campaign of misinformation, absurd claims, and outright corruption. As former FIRE president David French recently put it: “Jason Antebi’s ordeal represented quite possibly the worst abuse of power I have ever seen in higher education (and I’ve seen some bad abuses).”

While the abuses were obvious and most of the major players involved in the case have either stepped down from or otherwise left Oxy (with the very notable exception of Occidental College General Counsel Sandra Cooper), the California courts have refused to rule in Antebi’s favor on his most important claims. As Anthony explains:

The lawsuit is now in the appeals process. A lower-court ruling has held that Antebi may proceed with his defamation claims, but it has also strangely judged that the Leonard Law does not apply in this case since Antebi had already graduated by the time he filed his lawsuit. (Antebi had been trying to find a lawyer that he could afford, but was unable to find one until after graduation.) What’s strange about the court’s ruling is that Antebi was an undergrad at the time he was punished by Occidental—and his conviction for “sexual harassment” continues to harm him as an alumnus by hampering his ability to apply to graduate schools.

If the courts hold that students can seek relief under the Leonard Law only during the time that they are actually enrolled as students, this would dramatically weaken the force of the law. It would mean that schools could freely censor students who were about to graduate, or that they could even prevent students from filing lawsuits by simply expelling them.

Bill Leonard, the California legislator who wrote the Leonard Law, says the “spirit of the law” clearly agitates against the court’s decision in a case like Antebi’s. Leonard tells National Review Online: “If he suffered some kind of school penalty as a result of his speech, he is entitled to contest that…. The fact that he has left the school is irrelevant.”

When Bill Leonard disagrees with the courts on their interpretation of a law popularly known as “The Leonard Law,” it’s a signal that the courts may have gotten it wrong. As it currently stands, the Court of Appeals threw out all but Antebi’s defamation claim against Sandra Cooper, basing its decision on misinterpretations of the law and technicalities. The rulings against Jason were wrongly decided and open the door to future brazen abuse of students at private universities in California if allowed to stand. If Jason decides to appeal this decision to the California Supreme Court he knows he can count on FIRE’s continued help.

Schools:  Occidental College