CA bill would protect students who expose biased profs
After a student was suspended for recording a professor calling Donald Trump’s election an “act of terrorism,” one California lawmaker has introduced legislation to protect student whistleblowers.
SB677, introduced by Republican state senator John Moorlach, aims to “ensure that students who witness activities in the classroom which violate state or federal law or regulation and/or a local agency policy are free to document and report the situation to the necessary authorities or to the media, including social media.”
“Universities should be places where all pursue hard and difficult issues without threats and intimidation.”
Senator Moorlach introduced the bill after Caleb O’Neil, an Orange Coast College student, was suspended for recording Professor Olga Perez Stable-Cox calling Donald Trump’s election “an act of terrorism” during a classroom rant in which she also referred to Vice President Mike Pence as “one of the most anti-gay humans in this country.”
The bill would specifically overturn parts of the California Educational Code that prevent students from using “any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the instructor.”
That provision was cited by OCC as justification for O’Neil’s suspension (which was later lifted in response to public pressure), and reminders about the policy began appearing in classrooms throughout campus shortly thereafter.
Professor Cox has received no formal reprimand or punishment, and recently was honored as the Orange Coast College Faculty Member of the Year.
Pointing out in a fact sheet for SB 677 that existing policy “was recently used to protect an instructor who was publicly shaming students and to punish the student who attempted to bring transparency to the situation,” Moorlach declares that such an “attempt to silence the truth” should not be sanctioned by the state.
“In an educational environment, students should feel the freedom to question their instructors—and even more so, should be protected when they seek to expose activities which violate laws or school policies,” the summary states. “Senate Bill 677 is patterned after the whistleblower protection given to employees in the workplace, which are some of the best protections in the nation. Just as employees must feel free to document and report violations in the workplace, students must be given the same protection and freedom to ensure that professors and administrators are not using their authority to silence those with differing opinions.”
In an interview with Campus Reform, Moorlach described the bill as an effort to promote intellectual diversity in higher education, saying it is important that all viewpoints be welcomed and encouraged.
“Colleges and universities should be places where all pursue hard and difficult issues without threats and intimidation,” Moorlach elaborated, adding that “anyone who violates this sacred trust—especially instructors and professors—diminishes the institution.”
He also questioned the need to have different rules for student whistleblowers, arguing that “students should have the same access to California’s comprehensive whistleblower laws that are available to just about anyone else in the state where there is harassment, threats, and intimidation.”
SB 677 is currently awaiting reconsideration by the Senate Education Committee, which failed to pass the bill upon initial consideration of it at the end of April.
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