News & Politics

Calif. Student Suspended for Taping Prof's Anti-Trump 'Act of Terrorism' Rant

YouTube screenshot of remarks by a Psychology professor calling Trump's election "an act of terrorism."

In an Orwellian twist, a student at Orange Coast College (OCC) who filmed his professor’s anti-Trump rant was suspended from his school, required to meet with the dean of students to “request…reentry,” and forced to write an apology and a three-page essay explaining why he recorded the rant, the negative impacts of his recording, and how he will “prevent this from happening in the future.” The student has appealed the decision.

“This is an attack by leftists in academia to protect the expressive rights of their radical instructors at the expense of the expressive rights of conservative students on campus,” declared Bill Becker, founder, president, and general counsel of Freedom X, who is representing the student. Becker announced that his organization will file a notice of appeal on Wednesday, arguing that the student’s “constitutional and legal rights have been violated.”

Caleb O’Neil, the previously anonymous student, was notified of his suspension last Thursday, February 9. On December 9, 2016, O’Neil published a YouTube video of Olga Pere Stable-Cox, his psychology professor.

In that video, Stable-Cox called then President-elect Donald Trump a “white supremacist,” denounced Mike Pence as “one of the most anti-gay humans in this country,” and called their electoral victory “an act of terrorism.” She added that “we are way beyond Republicans and Democrats, we are really back to being in a civil war.”

Given the harsh nature of these remarks, and the fact that O’Neil had reportedly worn Trump campaign t-shirts to class, the student was “in fear of retaliation by his instructor after she launched into a half-hour rant in which she labeled Trump a ‘white supremacist’ and told the class she would no longer tolerate any person who voted for Trump,” Freedom X reported.

According to the law firm, “O’Neil videotaped the rant over concerns that his grade might be lowered for the class because of his outward show of support for Trump. He intended to use the video to present the administration as evidence of his concerns.”

The email which notified O’Neil of his suspension charged the student with violating the Student Code of Conduct against tape recording and unauthorized use of electronic devices in the classroom, Campus Reform reported.

Unauthorized recording is a serious violation of the Student Code of Conduct. This is clearly stated in the instructor’s course syllabus in addition to the student code of conduct. When we spoke, you stated that you felt badly about the things that had happened to individuals as a result of this incident. It is my hope that this experience will lead you to truly think through your actions and the consequences of those actions when making decisions in the future.

In the email, Interim Dean of Students Victoria Lugo cited two specific policies in the Student Code of Conduct which O’Neil allegedly violated: “Unauthorized Tape Recording” and “Unauthorized Use of Electronic Devices.” The first section forbids taking a tape recording of “any person on District Property or at any District function without that person’s knowledge or consent.” The second forbids use of electronic devices “on District property or at any District function, including but not limited to classes, lectures, labs and field trips.”

The email did not point to the part of the instructor’s course syllabus forbidding such recordings. Lugo did, however, lay out a 5-step punishment for O’Neil, including: suspension for one full semester, a required meeting with the dean of students who will “consider your request for reentry,” disciplinary probation for one semester after returning from suspension, submission of a written apology by February 28, and a three-page essay explaining why O’Neil videotaped the professor, why he decided to share the video, his “thoughts and analysis on the impact of the video going ‘viral’ and the ensuing damage to Orange Coast College students, faculty and staff,” other choices he “could have made,” and how he will prevent this from happening in the future.

Freedom X, the firm filing the notice of appeal, argued that “the sanctions imposed on O’Neil are excessive, that the college retaliated against O’Neil in violation of his constitutional and legal rights by unlawfully discriminating against him on the basis of his conservative political views and that the college violated O’Neil’s due process rights by conducting a partisan probe into the incident.”

Joshua Recalde-Martinez, president emeritus of OCC College Republicans, told Campus Reform that the school’s use of the Student Code of Conduct to judge O’Neil was overboard. “Even I myself could pretty easily violate the electronic device recording statute. Anyone who uses their phone in class is automatically violating that portion of the student code of conduct,” Recalde-Martinez argued.

Recalde-Martinez and the Republican club’s lawyers further insisted that “there is simply no clause in the [student conduct code] beyond using a tape recording device.”

OCC did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Perhaps ironically, there was a free speech protest following the original release of Caleb O’Neil’s video on YouTube, but it was a protest in favor of the professor. Students chanted, “We support free speech, let teachers teach!”

Freedom X will give a press conference with O’Neil to present and discuss the appeal later Wednesday afternoon. There has been no word yet on whether the students protesting for Professor Stable-Cox support O’Neil’s suspension. Perhaps they will speak up after the press conference.