February 27 2017
Just a week ago, Orange Coast College suspended a conservative student who recorded his professor calling Trump’s election “an act of terrorism.” But after 19-year-old Caleb O’Neil filed an appeal and threatened to sue, the board of trustees announced it would cancel that punishment.
The university had originally planned to suspend O’Neil until at least the fall of 2017, also putting him on disciplinary probation and requiring him to write a letter of apology to Olga Perez-Stable Cox, the professor he recorded. But after convening a special meeting, the board of trustees voted Wednesday to lift O’Neil’s punishment, also saying they would not take action against Cox.
Bill Becker, O’Neil’s attorney and the president and general counsel for Freedom X, was out of the country Thursday, but said in a statement he said the student’s record would also be free of blemish.
“Notwithstanding our relief that Caleb will no longer have a suspension on his academic record, the college’s miscalculation leaves a blemish on its reputation,” Becker said. “We hope that the administration, staff and faculty have learned from the errors made. It is unfortunate that no public apology to Caleb was issued. The administration put him in fear of losing his academic standing, his athletic ambitions and his career plans. Offering him a public apology would be the right thing to do.”
Both Becker and a lawyer for the College Republicans said it was unfortunate the university took no disciplinary action against Cox.
Neither Cox nor Orange Coast College responded to Heat Street’s request for comment.
Since O’Neil’s video, posted on the College Republicans’ Facebook page, went viral, the school received thousands of calls, emails and letters from across the United States—including many last week calling for the university to revoke its punishment of O’Neil, the Orange County Register reported.
Shawn Steel, the lawyer representing the College Republicans, said that backlash likely contributed to the board of trustees’ decision. “The cancer is in remission,” Steel told Heat Street, calling this “a small step toward liberating the school from the left-wing sickness which oppresses most American universities.”
The board of trustees stopped short of allowing students to tape their professors without their consent, explicitly stating that trustees were not “condoning the unlawful recording of lectures.”
Orange Coast College posted signs on campus earlier this semester warning students that unauthorized recordings violate the student code of conduct and the California Education Code. State law also prohibits recordings of private conversations unless all parties have given consent.
In its statement, the board of trustees expressed sympathy for both O’Neil and Cox.
“The student in this case felt he could not freely share his political views in classroom, which is why he felt his only recourse was to record a lecture he felt was unfair,” the statement said.
It added that Cox was “sharing her views” to a student concerned about Trump’s election. “Without condoning what was said, the angst and distress she has felt, as hundreds of hateful and threatening messages were directed at her, is understandable,” the trustees said.
Vincent Wetzel, president of the Orange Coast College Republicans, said last week that conservatives students felt targeted and bullied on campus. Last semester, the group filed a formal complaint with administration. The college began an investigation but has not yet released results.
“Caleb and other Trump supporters/conservatives/Republicans in that classroom are the clear victims in the situation,” Wetzel said, adding that the suspension was “victim-blaming.”
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.