MOORLACH UPDATE — Free Speech Conundrums — February 16, 2017

In this day and age, having a policy that prevents the recording of a community college instructor seems a bit antiquated, especially when so many institutions of higher learning promote the technology in a way to advance learning, like Yale and Stanford. But, a course on human sexuality may find confidential interactions between students and the teacher a little awkward if they are taped. I can understand that. Forget about why one needs a course on this subject in school. But, some privacy requirements may be necessary.

However, what happens when the teacher deviates from the course material that was being paid for through taxpayer funding and student fees for classes? Does an educator have the right to pontificate regularly and at length on current events on a totally different subject matter?

Each of us has opinions on President Trump and have the right to express them freely. But, should school employees who have grading authority be permitted to give personal, invective diatribes that they would not want repeated outside of the classroom, especially on a matter that has nothing to do with what the student is paying for?

I think those who have the responsibility to be campus teachers should stick to their curriculum’s syllabus and leave the pontificating to the editorial page writers. Or go join the students on the soapboxes in the common areas and debate with them there, where they are free to respond without the threat of an adverse grade.

Over the past three months I have been in communication with Orange Coast College President Dennis Harkins. He and I have cultivated a relationship over the years. And, I have known Doug Bennett, a college foundation executive and spokesman, for decades. I am familiar with many of the Coast Community College District’s Board members. I have also talked with former Crew Coach Extraordinaire, former OCC President and CCCD Board member David Grant about this awkward incident. And I have been in contact with a member of the affected family, as all are constituents.

There are two wrongs here. A teacher for a non-career building class strayed from the subject. And a student, in fear of losing a 3.9 GPA decided to protect himself by using a ubiquitous instrument like a cell phone to record the teacher’s off-topic harangues. It only makes sense that a smart student would want some evidence if his grade was modified due to a difference of political opinion, one not related to the subject matter.

In this particular case, if the school is going to punish the student, it should also punish the teacher. If the student is suspended, ask the teacher to take a time out, too. I would suggest a semester-long sabbatical. Cool off. Take up rowing. Learn to conduct yourself in a manner that reflects how you would want to be treated. Write a paper on how you will bite your tongue on non-subject matters. Apologize to the students of all three of the classes that had to endure the personal invective. And, apologize to a good number of the citizens that underwrite community college payrolls and bond payments by printing it in a local paper.

This was not a comfortable experience for all of the parties involved. And it has been an anxious three months for all of us. But, the sad conclusion appears to be that political hate speech is protected, not in a personal situation – for which every American has the right – but in the classroom where the students are captive subjects. And that is a very disappointing lesson provided by a highly regarded institution in our community.

There, now that state employees are allowed to give their thoughts on the passing parade, you’ve got mine. And, thank the OC Register, in the first piece below, for opening the door.

Caleb O’Neil: Chapman University has a crew team, although it is more of a club sport there. UCI also has a team. Maybe one of these two campuses would love to have a straight-A student like you enrolled at their campus? Or, you can go to Vanguard University of Southern California or Concordia University in Irvine. But, there, both without a crew program, you will not be able to rock the boat.

The second piece opens another component of free speech, and that is the supposed free press. Well, it isn’t so free. When I served as the Orange County Treasurer-Tax Collector, we were required to place public notice ads for escheatments and tax-defaulted real estate.

You had to be five years behind on real property tax payments before your real estate could be auctioned off. This means that you probably had no mortgage and didn’t really want the land any more. You had already received certified mail from me and one-third of you lived outside of the Orange County (nowhere near the circulation footprint of a local newspaper).

These ads are not cheap and are a significant cost in the Department’s budget. Well, newspapers rely on advertising revenue to survive. And, they do not want to relinquish this revenue source. Consequently, through your property taxes, you are subsidizing the local paper that is utilized to print these public notices for one or more days.

The second piece below, from the Monterey County Weekly, is honest about it. As the only former county Treasurer-Tax Collector in the legislature, I was approached to possibly by my former colleagues to author a bill that would simply offer an option – after the approval by the Board of Supervisors – of having an abbreviated announcement in the newspaper directing interested parties to a specific website maintained by the county with all of the pertinent information now published in newspapers or at three public places in each township within a county.

This proposal tries to be more transparent with public data and reduce government costs, but it may be bad for the newspapers’ bottom line, even though they would still be carrying the information in their papers. It is a little hypocritical for a newspaper’s editorial page to complain about the many who suckle on government funding, only to be guilty of doing it, too.

Being opposed by an interest group that purchases ink by the barrel could make for a very interesting legislative effort should I decide to actually introduce the bill. But, I’ve always enjoyed taking on powerful forces. Friday evening is the deadline for legislators to submit their final bills.

Orange Coast College student suspended for secret recording speaks out

By ROXANA KOPETMAN / STAFF WRITER

http://www.ocregister.com/articles/neil-744162-college-orange.html

COSTA MESA – An Orange Coast College student who faces a suspension for secretly filming a teacher in class making anti-Donald Trump comments filed an appeal Wednesday with the school.

Flanked by his attorney and students who came out in support, Caleb O’Neil, 19, spoke publicly about his experience for the first time during a news conference at the Costa Mesa college.

"I pulled my phone out, because I was honestly scared that I would have repercussions with my grades because she knew I was a Trump supporter," said O’Neil, a freshman who often wore pro-Trump attire to school.

“I thought Olga was a good teacher,” O’Neil said of instructor Olga Perez Stable Cox.

But when she began speaking, one week after the election of Donald Trump, of a divided nation and cast the election as an assault, he said he felt threatened.

School officials say O’Neil violated the Orange Coast College Community District’s Student Code of Conduct against unauthorized recording and use of an electronic device in the classroom.

O’Neil is suspended for a full semester and the summer term. Before being readmitted, he must write a letter of apology to Cox and a three-page, double-spaced essay explaining his actions and provide his analysis of the aftermath.

The sanctions are “excessive and discriminatory,” said Bill Becker, O’Neil’s attorney and the president of Freedom X, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving religious and conservative freedom of expression.

O’Neil, 19, is a competitive rower and said chose Orange Coast College so he could join its male varsity rowing team. He is attending classes during the appeal.

Orange County Republican Chairman Fred M. Whitaker on Wednesday called the college officials’ decision “abhorrent” and said it “clearly affirms their disdain for one of our nation’s most cherished freedoms: freedom of speech."

Last December, Whitaker and nine California elected leaders – including Sen. Janet Nguyen and Sen. John Moorlach – sent a letter to the college’s president, Dennis Harkins, discouraging disciplinary action, which would send “a disturbing message that students who don’t fall in line are at risk of administrative retribution.”

Contact the writer: rkopetman and Twitter@roxanakopetman

http://www.montereycountyweekly.com/news/the_buzz/the-buzz/article_02a4c338-f3c2-11e6-8b7d-2f0da7b9aae3.html

The Buzz

FREE SPEECH

Flip to the back of many newspapers, including the Weekly, and you come upon public notices – small type announcing things like public meetings, properties in foreclosure, delinquent taxpayers. State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, plans to introduce a bill that would authorize tax collectors to post public notices on their websites, rather than in newspapers. The California Newspaper Publishers Association is fighting Moorlach’s proposal, partly because it’s bad for the bottom line, but also, as CNPA General Counsel Jim Ewert says, it’s bad public policy: “What these notices are for is to get information out to the public about occurrences the public is going to have a strong interest in.”

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