‘Oxy President’s Departure Doesn’t Erase Speech Issue’
July 13, 2005
On June 8, Ted Mitchell, president of Occidental College in Los Angeles, officially announced that he will be stepping down. Occidental’s press release presented Mitchell’s resignation as if it were just another glorious event in the college’s spotless history. Unsurprisingly, the release mentions neither a multimillion-dollar lawsuit brought against Mitchell and his administration for alleged free speech violations, defamation and invasion of privacy, nor his virtually unprecedented decision to dissolve the student government because of students’ alleged “abuse” of free speech - much less the terrible national publicity these events have brought Oxy.
In the rose-colored age of press releases for all occasions, such important omissions are par for the course.
Occidental’s strategy for dealing with the negative publicity from the lawsuit has been to spin this as a situation in which the college simply decided to remove a rude radio show host from the air. Although Antebi’s firing is problematic because the dean who fired him completely disregarded the wishes of the radio station’s student managers supposedly in charge of such decisions, the case is much more serious.Sadly, punishment for “offensive” speech is hardly novel on the modern campus. The events that make this case truly remarkable are Occidental’s warping of federal harassment law, its use of the Antebi controversy as an excuse to dissolve the student government, and its campaign to justify Antebi’s punishment after the fact.