Reiff: OCC Controversy Debate: Faculty Rights, Conservative Push Back

OC lawyer and GOP activist Shawn Steel said he has just begun to fight what he calls an intolerant and even dangerous environment for conservatives on college and university campuses.

“Right now free speech is a limited availability on most campuses if you’re a conservative,” Steel said on “Inside OC with Rick Reiff.” But he added, “Now the push back takes place.”

Steel, former chairman of the state GOP, was one of the lawyers who intervened on behalf of Orange Coast College student Caleb O’Neil, who secretly recorded a professor’s anti-Trump tirade that went viral, sparking campus protests and providing fodder for political talk shows.

The instructor, Olga Perez Stable Cox, was recorded in her human sexuality class the day after the presidential election calling Trump’s victory an “act of terrorism” and Vice President-elect Mike Pence “one of the most anti-gay humans in the country.”

College President Dennis Harkins suspended O’Neil for two semesters for violating campus privacy rules, but the college district trustees overturned the punishment and reinstated the student after public outcry, including scathing editorials in the Orange County Register.

Steel said he and others are sifting through a “treasure trove” of “fifteen hundred pages of emails” between OCC faculty and administrators regarding the O’Neil incident, obtained through a Freedom of Information request: “It’s not over. … We have a lot of information that we’re digesting.”

Further, Steel said the OCC case has led to his involvement in other recent campus incidents, including representation of “several of the victims” in the February melee at UC Berkeley that stopped an appearance by anti-left provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Steel indicated that he and other lawyers were considering civil rights actions against the university and city.

The show’s other guest, Professor Rob Schneiderman, head of the OCC teachers union, disputed Steel’s blanket characterization of college campuses as leftist bastions:

“Campuses in general may lean to the liberal side, but I know Orange Coast College is not one of those campuses. Certainly Golden West College in Huntington Beach is absolutely not, I can tell you from experience working with the faculty, that they are not a hard-left campus.”

Schneiderman said the controversy has hurt OCC: “Our campus is less safe for students to be vulnerable, to ask questions because of the outcome, the back-and-forth, discipline then no discipline, the confusion over what is the educational code, what can you record, what can’t you record.”

Schneiderman lauded professor Cox, saying that for 40 years she has been teaching ideas in her human sexuality class that have only recently become widely accepted. Steel said he wants the college to require that Cox apologize to student O’Neil and take an anger management class.

Steel and Schneiderman also tangled over teacher tenure. Steel said it protects professors who are incompetent, intolerant or bullying, while Schneiderman said it ensures academic freedom and open and vigorous dialogue.

One point on which Schneiderman and Steel agreed: The college administration botched the whole affair.

While defending Cox, the union “never advocated” for disciplinary action against student O’Neil, Schneiderman said: “I was shocked, frankly, that there was a suspension, I never expected it in a million years.” He said the situation could have been defused by quickly bringing the student and teacher together to air their concerns.

The controversy continues to simmer. Since the interview, several OCC buildings were sprayed with graffiti targeting campus Republican leader Joshua Recalde-Martinez. Also, the college named Professor Cox the recipient of its Faculty of the Year award.

Part One of the interview aired last week and is available on YouTube. Part Two is airing this week on PBS SoCal, KDOC and Cox, and is also available on YouTube. The complete show schedule is here.