Re: Free Speech in California
Allison’s post brought back quite a few memories from my days at FIRE. 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). To recap, after Antebi insulted some of his political opponents on his “shock jock” style radio program, he was fired from his job and convicted of sexual harassment. After he protested these actions, he was falsely accused (by administrators!) of committing various crimes on campus and then when the student government protested his treatment, the university dissolved the student government. The story is even more sordid when viewed up-close, and I recommend that anyone who’s curious should read Greg Lukianoff’s excellent letter to Occidental counsel Sandra Cooper. I’ll warn you, however, the letter is 28 pages long, but it took that much space to recount Occidental’s defamation, distortions, and other bad acts.
Given that background, I was profoundly disappointed by Friday’s report of the California Court of Appeals decision upholding the dismissal of Jason’s free speech claims. It defies common sense to believe that the California legislature intended to give universities a “get out of jail free” card if they simply expel students or wait until they are weeks from graduating to impose punishment. Of course the real intent was to protect not only currently enrolled students but also students who were enrolled at the time of the offense. But the statute doesn’t say that. The primary lesson here is for legislators: Make sure you draft statutes that clearly express your intent! As we all know, good drafting does not guarantee good court decisions, but it certainly helps.