Like many Americans, Olga Perez Stable Cox has strong feelings about the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
Unlike many Americans, her job offers the convenience of a captive audience with whom she can share those feelings.
Cox, a professor at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., did exactly that days after the election while standing in front of her students in a class – unleashing a multi-minute, hyperbole-filled harangue in which she called Donald Trump’s election an “act of terrorism,” referred to the president-elect as a “white supremacist” and said “we have been assaulted.”
Cox – a psychology professor who teaches a class on human sexuality – referred to Vice President-elect Mike Pence as “one of the most anti-gay humans in the country.” She also told her students that the nation is as divided now as it was “in Civil War times.”
“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,” she said. “I’m relieved that we live in California. It is one of the best states and I love that and I love living here, but I’m especially proud of our legislature who did put out a message.”
Cox’s comments were recorded by a conservative student in her class who found her statements offensive and decided to share the video with the Orange Coast College Republicans, according Joshua Recalde-Martinez, a political science major and president of the campus Republicans group.
Recalde-Martinez said his group decided to publicize the video this week after OCC President Dennis Harkins failed to address Cox’s behavior or respond to the group’s complaint “in a timely manner.” Recalde-Martinez said a handful of conservative students were present for Cox’s comments and many felt ostracized by her words and afraid that their grades might be affected by freely speaking their minds.
The student who filmed the video has asked to remain anonymous for fear of facing retribution in Cox’s classroom, Recalde-Martinez said.
The Orange Coast College Republicans plan to file a formal complaint with the school and have hired an attorney, Shawn Steele, who is a past chairman of the California Republican Party.
Steele told the Orange County Register that Cox is using her power as a grade-determining instructor to “basically scare and shame students.”
“It’s alarming,” he said. “It’s scaremongering. It’s irrational. It’s a rant. And it doesn’t belong in the classroom.”
Attempts to reach Cox were not immediately successful.
Recalde-Martinez said Cox’s rhetoric ignores the diversity of opinion that exists on a college campus, even in a liberal state such as California, where Hillary Clinton received 8,753,788 votes to Trump’s 4,483,810.
“This is a place that prides itself on being a diverse student college, and her comments go against all of that,” he said. “You’re dealing with a diverse population, and when she states that ‘we are the majority,’ she’s not taking into account that there may be Republican students in he class of over 200 students – she’s not being inclusive.”
Recalde-Martinez said his group will continue to protest Cox’s comments until the professor faces “some corrective measures,” such as anger management classes, and offers an apology to all of her students. He said the College Republicans are not calling for her to be fired.
“She is – to my knowledge – a tenured professor and I think that’s an extreme measure,” he said. “If you’re able to educate her that a classroom is for education and not for indoctrination, I think something good will come from it.”
“I hope she will be a professional professor once again,” he added.
Cox’s name has been added to a controversial website called “Professor Watchlist,” which lists the names of about 200 academics from across the country accused by a conservative group of advancing “leftist propaganda” and discriminating “against conservative students.”
As The Post’s Valerie Strauss reported, lists of supposedly threatening academics are nothing new, but “Professor Watchlist” is one of the latest, having been unveiled last month. Critics have said it is an assault on academic freedom.
As Strauss reported:
“The watch list is a project of the nonprofit organization Turning Point USA, which, according to its website, is a national movement that seeks to “educate students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, limited government, and free markets.” The nonprofit’s founder and executive director is 23-year-old Charlie Kirk, who, according to the [Arlington Heights, Ill.,] Daily Herald, graduated from Wheeling High School in Illinois and then turned down an invitation to attend Baylor University and took some education classes at Harper College in Palatine, Ill., while he founded the nonprofit. Kirk spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention.”
Juan Gutierrez, director of marketing and public relations at OCC, said school officials are aware of the video and are “looking into the matter.”
In particular, he said, officials want to understand the context in which Cox’s comments were made and whether her statements were a response to a question or part of a larger discussion. He said it was important to recognize the rights of the students as well as the professor.
“Instructors and professors enjoy academic freedom to challenge their students, and it may make people uncomfortable, and that’s how you get a spirited dialogue,” Gutierrez told The Post. “We support a respectful discourse. The purpose of the college experience is to share different perspectives on these complex issues.”
Gutierrez said Cox has been a professor at OCC for more than 20 years.
Rob Schneiderman, president of the Coast Federation of Educators, a part of the American Federation of Teachers that represents OCC’s faculty, told the Orange Country Register that Cox’s speech is a protected right.
He said that the student who recorded her who may have violated school and state codes – an act that could warrant punishment.
“This faculty member is known for her open and engaging ways in class, open to all sides of the issues,” Schneiderman said. “It’s unfortunate that this student chose to not engage in an open dialogue, which she encourages.”
The union posted a statement on its Facebook page defending Cox and labeling her one of the OCC community’s “most respected faculty members.”
Student reviews of Cox’s class going back as far as 2007 were consistently positive, with anonymous praise for her guest speakers and lectures.
“Awesome teacher, loved the class!” one student wrote. “Only class where I’ve attended every day! Take her :)”
“AWESOME IN EVERY WAY!” another wrote. “It opens you up and you learn so much about yourself. Take her advance class, you take field trips. She is super nice and helpful if you need to talk to her.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Peter Holley