The Right Not to Be Recorded

Orange Coast College suspends student who secretly and in violation of college rules videotaped professor's anti-Trump comments, which later went viral.

February 16, 2017
 
Olga Perez Stable Cox

The Orange Coast College student who videotaped a professor calling Donald Trump’s election as president “an act of terrorism” has been suspended. The status of the investigation into the professor of psychology who made the comments, Olga Perez Stable Cox, is unclear.

Orange Coast College Republicans, the student group that initially shared the video online, announced the suspension on Facebook, calling it “victim blaming at its finest.” The college “is making a clear statement that it doesn't give a damn about its students and is completely in the pocket of the teachers' union. We will continue to fight this and we will win,” the group said.

The dispute has become a flash point in campus culture wars since the election. To College Republicans, the case is about squelching their ability to raise criticisms of faculty members. But to many who back the professor, the case illustrates the ability of some students to violate college rules by secretly recording and possibly distorting an instructor's comments, leaving them vulnerable to harassment.

Caleb O’Neil, 19, was notified of his spring and summer semester suspension last week, via email, according to information from the group. He was accused of violating the Orange Coast’s Student Code of Conduct on two counts, unauthorized tape recording and unauthorized use of electronic devices.

In addition to his suspension, O’Neil faces one semester of disciplinary probation upon his return to campus. He must apologize to Cox and write a three-page essay on why he videotaped the class, the impact of it becoming public and how he’ll prevent such an episode from happening again.

At an on-campus news conference Wednesday, O'Neil said he was a known Trump supporter and pulled out his phone to document Cox's comments because “I was honestly scared that I would have repercussions on my grade."  He said he received an A in the class.

Three other students who were involved in the incident but who did not videotape Cox -- including one who hosted the video on his YouTube channel -- were not disciplined, following an investigation. The video has racked up several hundred thousand views on various channels and sites.

Cox has said she was forced to leave the state due to threats after the video went viral in December. The recording of her, made in November, begins midsentence with the words “white supremacist.” It continues, “And a vice president that is one of the most anti-gay humans in this country.”

She can be heard saying, “So we are in for a difficult time, but again, I do believe that we can get past that. Our nation is divided, we have been assaulted, it’s an act of terrorism. One of the most frightening things for me and most people in my life is that the people creating the assault are among us.”

Cox said the nation was “at civil war,” and that her hope was “we will get leadership to help overcome that. I will go over some coping skills, but before I do that I want you to know that the optimist in me -- first of all, we are the majority, more of us voted to not have that kind of leadership, and we didn’t win because of the way our Electoral College is set up, but we are the majority and that’s helping me to feel better.”

It's unclear from the video itself whether Cox was answering a question or decided to talk about the election on her own. Her faculty union, the Coast Federation of Educators, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, has said that Cox was teaching a human sexuality class at the time and often lets students submit questions on note cards anonymously for her to answer aloud.

The faculty union said in a statement on its website that it has no role in student discipline but that there are “continuing consequences to the hurtful choices these Republican club students made, and both faculty and students had their trust violated.”

Rob Schneiderman, union president and campus counselor, was unsure of the status of the investigation into Cox’s comments, but said he had been briefed on the matter and believed there was no evidence of wrongdoing by her.

College Republicans filed a formal complaint against Cox when they first posted the video online. The union promptly responded that the students had violated not only the Student Code of Conduct but California code, which prohibits “use by any person, including a student, of any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the instructor.”

The College Republicans have previously argued that O’Neil was within his First Amendment rights to film the class. William Becker, a lawyer representing O’Neil, told the Orange County Register that the student’s rights have been violated and he will continue to attend classes as he appeals disciplinary action.

“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,” Becker, president of Freedom X, a legal nonprofit, told the Register.

A college spokesperson said Wednesday that Cox is back in class, teaching a full course load this semester. He declined comment on investigations related to the incident, citing campus and college district policies. Cox did not respond to a request for comment.

Cox is not the first professor to be videotaped in class and later face public criticism. The American Association of University Professors released a recent statement urging institutions to defend professors against targeted online harassment, including by establishing regulations that “prohibit the surreptitious recording of classroom discourse or of private meetings between students and faculty members.”

Signs warning students not to record professors at Orange Coast without their permission went up earlier this semester.

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