College officials need swift lesson in academic freedom

SACRAMENTO – There’s something creepily totalitarian about Orange Coast College’s handling of the now nationally known incident involving 19-year-old Caleb O’Neil, who was suspended from the college for two semesters for secretly videotaping one of his instructors engaging in an anti-Trump rant. The suspension was bad enough, but the college also insisted that O’Neil apologize to the professor and hand in an apologetic essay about his transgressions. Fortunately, after a groundswell of public support for the student — and academic freedom generally — the college backed down and rescinded the suspension and other sanctions.

For those who have missed the Register articles, human sexuality instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox was caught on video telling her class that Donald Trump’s presidential victory was “an act of terrorism.” The most frightening thing, she said, “is that the people who are leading the assault are among us.” O’Neil eventually posted the video after being unsatisfied with the college’s response. It went viral. As someone who campaigned for Trump, O’Neil had reason to fear the instructor’s views could have repercussions on his grades. After all, he’s one of those “among us.”

O’Neil’s supporters, including some local Republican leaders, blasted the professor for using her teaching position to shame students. The union representing faculty there criticized O’Neil for not engaging in an “open dialogue.” The school administration said it would investigate the complaint filed against the teacher, but the only obvious repercussions so far are the harshly punitive sanctions it tried to impose against the student.

The college’s letter to O’Neil, published on a website, understandably drew a backlash. It said that O’Neil’s essay should, among other things, discuss his “thoughts and analyses on the impact of the video going ‘viral’ and the ensuing damage to Orange Coast College…

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