Sunday, July 5, 2009

Claremont Conservative Videos: On The Danger of the Politicization of Sexual Harassment

Without a doubt, Sam Corcos is the best friend I could have ever hoped to have at Claremont McKenna. Although I may be blacklisting him in certain corners by extolling his work, I have to compliment him on the work he's done thus far for The Claremont Conservative. When I oftentimes find myself going nuts, he keeps me grounded. Sam and I created this video so that people might know the history of Brad Kvederis, a CMC student expelled for publishing a saucy newsletter. It might seem hard to believe in the era of post-Claremont Confessions that a student would be expelled for publishing a satirical newsletter that used crude language, but that's just what happened. Have a look at the video that Sam produced on The Claremont Conservative video channel.

I first learned of this miscarriage of justice from a book I read by Alan C. Kors and Harvey Silverglate. If those names seem familiar, they ought to. They are the authors of a book that has a profound influence on me, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America's Campuses, and founders of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). To quote Harvey Silverglate, he co-wrote a book he didn't have time to write and he co-founded an organization. From the book, you'll find that Brad Kvederis mention on p. 179. Here's what they write.
In April 1997, the Claremont McKenna College [sic] suspended a student for a newsletter in response to charges from three female readers that the publication created "a hostile environment," making his return to the college dependent on successful completion of sexual harassment sensitivity. The Southern California chapter of the ACLU took the case to the Pomona Superior Court, arguing that the newsletter was obviously protected speech. Justice Wendel Mortimer, Jr., however, ruled ingeniously that the newsletter "had the potential to create a hostile environment," so the final verdict is not yet in.
Sam and I followed up on the case and I wrote about it in a version of an article I wrote for The Claremont Independent, which was put up online, but not printed in full.
In 1997, Brad Kvederis sued Claremont McKenna after he refused to attend sensitivity training for publishing an obviously satirical newsletter under the pseudonym Johnny Gestapo. The profanity-laced newsletter poked fun at the drinking culture on campus and took quotes out of context to make them more humorous. According to Kvederis, three girls – only one of which was mentioned in the newsletter – filed harassment complaints with the administration, “probably fearing a lawsuit,” kicked him out until he attended a sexual harassment seminar. Geoffrey Baum, then assistant vice president for marketing and public relations, argued that Kvederis had gone too far. “From our perspective this was a sexual harassment issue,” Baum said at the time. “We are required to provide an environment free of sexual harassment.” (Just why the college, which doesn’t have any of the due process safeguards or resources as an actual court, is required is an open question. During the proceedings, the school undoubtedly violated Kvederis’s right to fair trial when it admitted into evidence a conversation that Kvederis had had with one of the girls who he had offended. Unbeknownst to Kvederis, she was recording the entire conversation in direct violation of California law. [Editted: Strange, huh, with the similarities with the Kyle and David case.]

But Kvederis’s attorneys from the ACLU disagreed and argued that Kvederis’s speech was protected. Initially, CMC won, but Kvederis appealed and the parties settled out of court for an undisclosed sum several years after Kvederis had left campus. Kvederis strongly disputes that they had any intention of letting him back on campus. According to Kvederis, at one point, Jack Stark, Claremont McKenna’s president, rejected his letter of appeal and threatened him. “He issued me into his office, printed out a one-line statement saying that he rejected my letter of appeal. He said that he had heard that I was applying to USC and said that unless I did what he wanted, he was going to call his friends there and stop that from happening.” Meanwhile, Torrey Sun, again according to Kvederis, said that “never in his professional career had he seen something so devoid of merit” as the Wohlford Free Press. Apparently, Claremont McKenna students disagreed. Kvederis’s newsletter was voted the best newsletter on campus. Ironically, Kvederis went on to become a professional journalist and was elected to student government at his new college in northern California.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I lived in Wohlford when this went down. Brad's newsletter was mostly good irreverent fun, but he crossed the line when he started reporting on who was having sex with who, etc. That is harassment and it's just wrong.