Orange Coast College has suspended a student who recorded his instructor describing Trump’s election as an “act of terrorism.”
Caleb O’Neil, a 19-year-old Trump supporter, will be barred from attending college until at least Fall 2017, according to a news release by the Orange Coast College Republicans. Upon his return, O’Neil would be put on disciplinary probation and required to submit a written apology to Olga Perez-Stable Cox, the psychology instructor he taped, the College Republicans said. The group denounced the suspension as “excessive punishment” and “victim-blaming at its finest.”
O’Neil is appealing the decision with the college. If administrators uphold his suspension or other punishments, he intends to file a suit in federal court, said Bill Becker, the student’s lawyer. Becker is also the president, CEO and general counsel of Freedom X, a nonprofit dedicated to protecting conservative and religious freedom of expression.
Becker said that because O’Neil frequently wore pro-Trump T-shirts, Cox knew he was a Trump supporter. He feared that Cox would dock his grade, and, at worst, her comments might have prodded students into violence against him, Becker said.
“She was being intolerant. She was being a bully. And she was threatening her students. That’s improper behavior for an educator, and it was rightly exposed,” Becker said.
Heat Street requested comment from Orange Coast College’s president and spokesman, as well as Cox herself. By deadline, none of them had responded to our repeated inquiries.
Orange Coast College’s student code of conduct forbids unauthorized recordings, as does the California Education Code. State law also requires all parties consent to the recording of a private conversation.
But Becker said these laws and policies clearly weren’t intended to prevent students from documenting unlawful or unconstitutional behavior in the classroom. O’Neil made the recording to show college administrators proof that he was being targeted for his political beliefs, Becker said.
O’Neil also shared the recording with the College Republicans, who posted it to their Facebook page. From there, the recording went viral, circulating online and on Fox News.
“I think there’s this inference being drawn that this was being posted for the purpose of shaming the professor,” Becker said. “That wasn’t the purpose of it at all. … If [O’Neil] were limited to only explaining to administrators what a teacher said that he believed violated his rights and put him in a position of insecurity, he would not have the best evidence and would not necessarily be taken that seriously.”
The Orange Coast College Republicans have also filed a formal complaint with administration, alleging that they have been repeatedly targeted on campus for their political beliefs and affiliation. The college launched an investigation into those allegations, though no results have been publicly released.
Shawn Steel, the lawyer who filed the complaint on behalf of the College Republicans, condemned O’Neil’s suspension and said conservative students face unique threats at American colleges and universities.
“Many faculty members are acutely embarrassed when their extremist statements are recorded and publicized to the outside world—as in this case,” Steel said. “Faculty and administrators will use any form of oppression, including suspension, expulsion, giving poor grades and threatening criminal penalties for anyone who defies their current oppressive atmosphere.”
Since the video of Cox’s anti-Trump commentary went viral last semester, the instructor said she received an onslaught of hate mail, including some threats. The campus saw protests both in support of Cox and against her. Meanwhile, the president of the professor’s union denounced the video as “an illegal recording” and “Gestapo tactics.”
As the 2017 spring semester began, Orange Cost College posted signs prohibiting students from making unauthorized in-classroom recordings.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.