How Oberlin College screwed up

Reader Stephen sent me a link this article from Commentary, which is about the best summary I’ve seen of the fracas between Oberlin College in Ohio and a local business, Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery (click on screenshot to read). I’ve posted a lot about this case in the last few months, and you can find a collection of the posts here.  The Commentary piece is by Abraham Socher, who taught Jewish studies at Oberlin for 18 years as a professor.

In brief, a student and two friends were caught shoplifting alcohol by Allyn Gibson, one of the family that owns the long-time institution in Oberlin. (This is after the student tried to buy booze but was refused because he was underaged.) Gibson chased the students out of the store, whereupon the three got Gibson on the ground and started punching and kicking him. The cops showed up and arrested the students, who later pleaded guilty to attempted theft, aggravated trespassing, and underage purchase of alcohol (the ones who didn’t steal faced only the last two charges.) In their guilty pleas, the students acknowledged to the court that Gibson had acted lawfully and that he was not “racially motivated.”

The racial aspect is crucial here: the students were African-American and Gibson was white. This caused a huge bout of demonstrations and rioting against Gibson’s, with both the College and the students accusing Gibson’s of racism and urging an economic boycott of the family-owned business. The College even suspended purchases from Gibson’s for its dining hall—twice.  Gibson’s tried to get the College to settle the case and stop denigrating the business and its owners, but Oberlin refused.

Faced with that, the Gibsons took Oberlin to court, and won. As Commentary says,

The jury found that Oberlin College and its dean of students had maliciously libeled the Gibson family as racists and deliberately damaged their business by suspending and later cancelling its century-long business relationship with the bakery—all while unofficially encouraging a student boycott. And the jury found that the college had intentionally inflicted emotional distress on the Gibsons themselves.

Oberlin’s fine, originally $44 million including both punitive and compensatory damages, was later reduced to $31.5 million, with $25 in damages and $6.5 million paid to the Gibsons’ attorneys. While the case is under appeal, the judge forced Oberlin to post bond for that amount. Oberlin has vowed to fight on, has never admitted it did anything wrong, and has never repudiated either the charges of racism or the actions of its students. By digging in its heels this way, the College has damaged its reputation, especially for an institution that avows to seek truth and change the world in positive ways.

.

What I’d like to discuss here is how Oberlin College itself was complicit in defaming and damaging the Gibsons. If it were only the students who acted on their own, with neither support nor resources nor encouragement provided by Oberlin, the College could not have been sued. But Oberlin intervened in many ways, all of which added up to the guilty verdict and the huge fine. Here’s what Oberlin did to incite and support the students and their charges (quotes from the article are indented):

A.) College administrators impugned the Gibsons as well as members of their own faculty who urged the College to back off. Prominent in these activities was Meredith Raimondo, Dean of Students and Vice President of the College (“she/her/hers”).

Clearly the administrators had a deep animus against Gibson’s. Why? Because the students, both black and white, were enraged at the bakery because of its supposed racism (which didn’t exist; see below), and College administrators must cater to their students, students who are, in America, becoming entitled and demanding customers. And the customer is always right.

Look at this backlash against a professor who urged Oberlin to stop the defamation:

What Raminodo and Jones said is shameful. Really, those people should be let go!

But wait! There were more professors (one in Africana Studies) telling Oberlin to cool it. And the administration denigrated those professors as well:

Copeland wasn’t the only professor urging reconciliation now that the Gibson’s version of events had been unambiguously vindicated. Booker Peek, a longtime professor of education and Africana studies who heads a program in which Oberlin students tutor students in the local school, lamented the rift between the town and the college, and urged an out-of-court settlement, noting that Gibson’s had, “to its credit, [done] all that it could to keep the matter from ever going to trial in the first place.” Appealing to history, he reminded his readers that the Gibson family had come to Oberlin in the 19th century because of their opposition to slavery. Moreover, “a bare-knuckled, nasty, public fight will leave ugly scars and a putrid smell with no true winner.” Meanwhile, Kirk Ormand, a professor of classics, urged the administration to address the problem of student shoplifting more seriously. “I’m so sick of Kirk,” Dean Raimondo wrote to her colleagues.

So far we have Dean Raimondo, the director of the Multicultural Resource Center, and the Vice President of Communications all working together to destroy Gibson’s and those who defended it. Can you imagine a College Dean and Vice President saying that he should use the students as a weapon against a business—”unleashing” them?

B.) The College not only refused Gibson’s entreaties to settle the issue and stop going after them, but also contributed materially to the demonstrations and boycott. This was a deadly mistake on Oberlin’s part. For example, flyers were handed out at the student demonstration against Gibson’s:

It wasn’t just the students, but also the administration. Raimondo showed up at the demonstration (supposedly as a neutral party), but in fact gave flyers out herself—some, unfortunately, to the editor of the local newspaper. College officials tried to stop the press from photographing the demonstration. At the demonstration Raimondo was yelling through a bullhorn, apparently supporting the demonstrators and informing them that there was free pizza and soda (bought by Oberlin) in the nearby Music Conservatory.

And when the chilly protestors were given gloves by a student organizer, Dean Raimondo reimbursed the student for the gloves.

C.) Oberlin allowed false and defamatory literature about Gibson’s to be posted in College buildings. Again, a serious mistake! The student Senate passed a resolution calling Gibson’s a racist institution and urging the students and college to cease all support of the bakery. This was made public. Likewise, the Department of Africana Studies, part of Oberlin, publicly accused Gibson’s of racism:

The defamatory Student Senate resolution was posted in the Student Union building for more than a year. That is to say that it, too, was, in the legally relevant sense of the word, published. This was also the case for the Department of Africana Studies message on its public Facebook wall, which read: “Very Very proud of our students! Gibson’s has been bad for decades, their dislike of Black people is palpable. Their food is rotten and they profile Black students. NO MORE!”

D.) Oberlin cut financial ties with Gibson’s, telling them they would be severed so long as Gibson’s continued to press charges against the students. They did this twice. That was action designed to injure the business.

Oberlin’s food services cancelled its weekly bakery order from Gibson’s, under orders from Dean Raimondo. When owner David Gibson (Allyn Gibson’s father and the elder Allyn W. Gibson’s son) met with representatives of the college, he was told that the order would not be resumed as long as Gibson continued to press charges against the students. The following semester the orders were resumed, though the crippling informal student boycott continued; when Gibson’s later filed suit, the orders were cancelled again. Emails revealed at the trial showed several members of the Oberlin administration discussing the financial hit Gibson’s was taking and speculating on the leverage it gave the college in the dispute.

E.) Oberlin fought against admitting evidence that Gibson’s had no history of racism. To me, this is one of the most unconscionable things that Oberlin did. They were fighting against revealing the truth, simply because that truth made the College and students look bad:

David Gibson brought statistics from the Oberlin Police Department to the college showing that of the 40 people arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s over the previous five years, 33 were students of the college, 32 were white, six were African American and two were Asian, which almost perfectly matched the racial makeup of the city. Despite its stated determination to explore “whether this is a pattern and not an isolated incident,” Krislov’s administration was unmoved. At trial, the college’s lawyers tried and failed to have the statistics quashed as evidence.

Unbelievable!

At the end of his piece, Socher speculates about why Oberlin behaved as it did rather than doing the right thing. One is that the College was conditioned to treat its students as customers, as I mentioned above. In fact, one of President Krislov’s aides said that “both the college and Gibson’s were dealing with the same customer base”, and because of that the school couldn’t send out a notice supporting Gibson’s.

Socher’s other suggestion is that, as in many colleges, “There is a kind of Pareto principle working at schools like Oberlin in which the radicalized 5 or 10 percent of the population establishes the tone for the entire institution,” and that colleges are particularly susceptible to this kind of leverage because the college was dedicated to changing the world (its motto is “Think one person can change the world? So do we.”). As the radical students examplified this drive for change, they gained enormous symbolic power. Sadly, they were poorly motivated.

There are surely other reasons why Oberlin screwed up big time, but I won’t go into my own speculations here. I just want to underscore the fact that there are real consequences to a college’s catering to misguided claims of ideologically motivated students: consequences to its reputation, legal consequences, and, of course financial consequences, which are substantial in this case.

Other schools that act like Oberlin—and we’ll see this happening the next academic year—should pay careful attention to the Oberlin vs. Gibson’s case. If administrators themselves aren’t committed to doing the right thing, at least they can avoid doing the wrong thing to avoid suffering Oberlin’s fate.

The person who messed up the most: Meredith Raimondo, Dean and Vice-President at Oberlin.

If Oberlin had any desire to make amends—which it doesn’t—it could start by firing Raimondo.

 

44 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Charles Sawicki
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    I hope Oberlin has to pay up, and the amount of the verdict is not reduced. A hard dope-slap is the only way they can possibly learn anything. The developing irrationality of far left students and craven administrators is really disheartening. We have Trump and more than 35% of the population (now 95% of Republicans) living in their own fantasy land. If rationality and democracy is to survive, the left needs to set an example by sanctioning and criticizing their fanatic outliers.

    • ploubere
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      sub.

    • Paully
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      I’m telling my nephew who will become a Sophmore at Oberlin to quit and come back to California and go to UC Davis or UC Riverside..
      Oberlin seems like a fake college nearing financial disaster..

  3. DrBrydon
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    I’d say unleash the students if I wasn’t convinced this needs to be put behind us.

    This is such an outrageous statement on so many levels, but most of all because of the cynical and disrepectful view of their own students.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      “Disrespectful” is the least of it. The students are nothing but pawns.

      I think that, among other things, trouble must have been simmering below the surface for quite some time with regard to the administration, senior staff, and among professors, with the woke vs. the moderates and this incident gave the woke faction the perfect means to try to stage some sort of inside ideological coup — just consider the crude and contemptuous, not to mention shockingly unprofessional, remarks referring to professors that were made by Dean Raimondo and her stooges.

      What makes things worse is that the school had no compunction about lying and twisting the facts in an attempt to ruin a family business because of this bullshit in order to protect some miscreants. They have absolutely ethics, no morals.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

        In this case, Hubris brings nemesis.

        I can’t resist ome bad puns: The bakery surely gave them their just desserts, and like it or not, they’ll be eating humble pie.

      • darrelle
        Posted August 19, 2019 at 7:48 am | Permalink

        I think you are right on the money. This looks to me like a power play by Dean Raimondo and the VP. They seem to be unscrupulous, mean and nasty people. They were using the students for their own ends. And nobody else at Oberlin (president? board?) stopped them at any point but instead backed their play every step of the way. What should have happened is Raimondo and the VP should have been fired and sued by Oberlin. They should be serving some jail time and community service.

  4. amyt
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 10:55 am | Permalink

    Ohio State University made the switch from “student” to “customer” years ago. This led to entitlements of a sort. “I would like to buy an “A” mentality. Won’t give a cent to to this institution. Just spent $6.3 on a lounge for football players. “They can spend all day, play arcades, shoot baskets (aren’t they supposed to be in class or god forbid studying?). “Items like lobster will generally be served only for special occasions”. The lounge includes a cryogenic chamber. Even the head athletic trainer admitted that there haven’t been conclusive studies about its effectiveness. This from an institution that supposedly prides itself as a top research institute. Yes, it was paid for by donors but if donors had been ‘groomed’ to give to higher learning many more students eh, customers, would have benefited. And just this week they filed a patent on the word “THE”. Yes, OSU you are THE laughing stock.

    • Charles Sawicki
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

      I went to high school in Ohio, and Ohio State was known for flunking out half of the frosh class. Now, I bet it’s all about student retention instead of maintaining some level of quality.

  5. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    It is clear from her actions in this case that Raimondo is a bully. Her position at Oberlin probably appealed to her, in part, because it gives her opportunity to bully others. She should be let go.

    • BJ
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

      She’s managed to fail upwards at Oberlin throughout her career. She’ll be Dean by the end of the year!

    • Steve Pollard
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

      ‘Let go’ is perhaps one of those euphemisms that should go on the list of Jerry’s most-disliked expressions. ‘Sacked without compensation’ would seem to cover it better.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        Let go is useful because it applies to all kinds of situations. You hold be fired because they don’t like you, fired because you’re incompetent, laid off, or fired because you were reorganized out of a position. If you say you were fired people assume you did something wrong. If you say you were laid off due to a reorganization that is only accurate if they plan to bring you back later.

  6. EdwardM
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    What a sad story chock full of hubris, pig-headedness, stupidity and not a little malice. Distressing too as if it was just students involved, no one would be surprised or bothered (except for the injustice) because young people do inexplicable things as they are passionate but have little experience. But this example of a truly frightening kind of authoritarianism we ought to have left behind in the 20th century has oozed its way into officialdom. I feel bad for Oberlin students (and alumni) and maybe this case will serve as a kind of woke watershed. I hope its not too late to save other schools and that the contagion can be contained.

    • A C Harper
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

      If you see yourself as battling against a dominant group (the ‘patriarchy’, ‘racists’, people of the town rather than people of the gown) – whether dominance is real, part real or completely imaginary – then you will eventually indulge in competitive victim-hood using victimarchy in your judgement.

      Glorying in the power of feelings over fact. Just like street gangs.

  7. HBB
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    My family and I toured Oberlin College among about a dozen other small liberal arts colleges looking for a good fit for our son 6-7 years ago. Oberlin was at the bottom of our list partially because of the snooty/insular feel of the place. The students, faculty, and administrators we interacted with were very sure of themselves and presented an off-putting hard sell. Perhaps more to the point of the post, the town of Oberlin is clearly a “company town.” IIRC, the College had partial ownership of the movie theater and some apartments in town, for example. The place is isolated, so this made sense, but I wonder if these types of very close long-term ties between the College and local businesses exacerbated the situation. Maybe Oberlin got its feelings hurt or there was some sort of implicit agreement about bad student behavior in town that was violated here. There was also a population of melanistic fox squirrels in the town and on campus, so they did have that going for them. I too am happy that the book is being thrown at the college.

  8. Harrison
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    It’s a heartwarming story with the villains losing soundly. The only thing that could make it better would be if the three profs who attempted to push back against the insanity were rewarded either with promotions or job offers from less clownish institutions. Specifically I’d like to see one of them given the Deanship.

  9. Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    This ever-expanding host of deans is nothing more than a political Kommisariat, with exactly the same impact on free thought and productivity as the one in the old Soviet Army.

    • Rich Sanderson
      Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

      Plus the ever-expanding number of “diversity officers” (who all promote conformity of thought), who are on six-figure salaries for doing very little with the exception of creating toxicity and an environment conducive to bullying and intimidation.

      • Gordon Anderson
        Posted August 19, 2019 at 1:17 am | Permalink

        and for every diversity officer and other pointless central position there follows an admin assistant plus someone to do the actual work and someone to promote ‘the vision’. Meanwhile in the engine room tutorials are cut, academic position frozen etc.

  10. Jon Gallant
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    Socher observes that “the radicalized 5 or 10 percent of the population establishes the tone for the entire institution”. Maybe “5 or 10 percent” applies to the student body, but the percent must be higher in administration, at least the diversicrat part represented by Meredith Raimondo. And “radicalized” is not the word I would apply to this group. Their steadily increasing presence in our Academic scene reminds me of a Russian novel I read long, long ago, one published, I think, during the Khrushchev thaw.

    It dealt with the evolution of the Bolshevik Party, once the home of socialist idealists like Nikolai Bukharin. After it seized power in 1917, the Party’s membership was changed by a flood of ambitious, power-hungry opportunists. These hustlers didn’t need Stalin (although he helped) to become the dominant stratum in the Party, and in the organs of state security—and thus the dominant power in the society as a whole.
    The same process can occur in any sphere. And maybe it is precisely in nominally idealistic spheres that hustlers find the easiest pickings, and can therefore come to dominate most easily.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted August 19, 2019 at 2:39 am | Permalink

      I agree. Parasite bureaucrats and apparatchiks. Any successful movement or organisation tends to get infested with them.

      It happens, partly at least, because those doing the real work or fighting the battles find administration boring and uninteresting. And they’re too busy doing their own jobs to notice that their great crusade has been turned into a beanfeast for bureaucrats until too late.

      cr

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    If administrators themselves aren’t committed to doing the right thing …

    Speaking of which, this seems like the worst case of unjustified retaliation against a business falsely accused of racism since Sal’s Famous Pizzeria got burned down in Bed-Stuy after New York’s finest choked Radio Raheem to death on the streets outside.

  12. Geoff Toscano
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

    I keep reading about this case then slapping myself because the facts can’t be true. Then it keeps going and I find it is true. What worries me is that even when they lose at final appeal, as surely they will, they’ll still be claiming they did nothing wrong.

    I assume that the college itself is on the line here as regards payout. I can’t believe an insurer would ever have allowed things to get so out of hand.

  13. Posted August 18, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    The part I find most disturbing in this saga is the way Raimondo used weaponized woke students.

  14. Posted August 18, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    It seems the cuisine of the college has clogged blood flow to the brains of certain persons in the administration; there appears that there is no thinking going on here, hoping. (Forgive me, I just watched Porterhouse Blue)

  15. max blancke
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    The events themselves are troubling, but what worries me the fact that this Stalinist mentality is being instilled into impressionable kids in hundreds of institutions across the country.

    In a big way, those kids are victims. They could be learning critical thinking skills, positive social skills like good sportsmanship, and obtaining useful degrees. Instead they are learning fake history, hostility towards those with different opinions, and to throw tantrums when they don’t get exactly what they want.

    My oldest was studying pre-med at one of the institutions that has been in the news for BLM protests on campus, in particular. Most of the kids on the medicine track were White or Asian, and they were stalked and harassed relentlessly by the leftist kids. That included disrupted classes and study sessions, even in reserved library rooms. They would have obscenities screamed at them walking between classes or even in the dining facilities. It was an atmosphere of fear, and my son begged me to not say anything to the admin, lest he be targeted for personal harassment. (He ended up transferring to a school with more of a focus on traditional academics, where he is doing well.)

    I don’t see that encouraging militant leftism is going to make life better for either the students themselves,the country, or for any of the people they will interact with in the future. Training a cadre of revolutionaries is only useful when you have some chance of conducting a successful revolution.

  16. Steve Gerrard
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    I knew about the swearing in the emails between Oberlin administrators, which is just appalling behavior. Every one of those administrators should be dismissed for failing to do their job.

    I was not aware of this fact:

    “Jonathan Aladin was caught stealing wine on November 9, 2016 — the day after President Trump was elected.”

    Does that help explain how this train wreck got started?

  17. Warren Johnson
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    What a tragedy. The fighters of oppression stooped to oppressing some innocent persons; I looking at you: USBSUA. The Social Justice Warriors unjustly defamed and injured a innocent family: I’m looking at you, the “wake up, stay woke” mob. You can’t fight Trumpism by being like Trump.

    Time to examine your own actions. Confession is good for the soul.

  18. Paully
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I’m telling my nephew who will become a Sophmore at Oberlin to quit and come back to California and go to UC Davis or UC Riverside..
    Oberlin seems like a fake college nearing financial disaster..

  19. Posted August 18, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    What I don’t understand is why Dean Raimondo is still employed by Oberlin? How is it that a person that plays a large part in causing a multi-million dollar settlement against their organization still getting a check from that same organization?

  20. Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

    Socher’s is by far the best digest of all the articles that have appeared on the story. I was a student there in1969 during a very turbulent era. That administration was also incapable of dealing with disruptive political and social currents there. And it seems unfortunate that in spite of 50 years of progressive black involvement in so many aspects of the school’s culture black students seem not much different from those I knew. The persistent racism and its limits on progress are disappointing, real, and remain a challenge for society and the school. It was a disappointment to feel once again the sameness of it all so many years later.

  21. Rich Sanderson
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

    Just another reminder that a couple of the “Rational Men” and #NewRacists, Thomas “Serious Inquiries Only” Smith and Peter “Humanisticus” Ferguson, insist that these incidents are just “hoaxes”.

  22. Daniel McGraw
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    A similar story, written a month ago, not as long, but still with the same theme, “the tail is wagging the dog.” https://quillette.com/2019/06/20/ideology-and-facts-collide-at-oberlin-college/

  23. H
    Posted August 18, 2019 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    Well said. Oberlin acted like Maoist ideologues with no interest in truth or justice. Since the conflict was between some black and some white people, the whites are to be deemed in the wrong. We have two presidential candidates implying (as Obama did) that “Ferguson” invokes police mistreatment of blacks instead of the proven facts that confirm “Ferguson” was a tragedy avoidable by Michael Brown NOT attacking a police officer. Have we traveled so far from the Enlightenment that we again judge people on their skin color? Our country cannot survive the destruction of our core legal principles. We need to reverse this trend yesterday.

  24. Posted August 19, 2019 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    I grew up in Oberlin, the son of John D Lewis, a staunch democrat who was the head of the political science department for decades. He has to be turning in his grave, as also my mother Ewart Lewis who taught medieval political history. To say I am appalled at what Oberlin has come to is a gross understatement, to say the least.
    But a little over a year ago I was in Oberlin for my 55th high school reunion and went on a group bike ride. At least older and sane faculty and retired faculty saw this controversy for what it was and we stopped at Gibson’s for coffee and pastry to show support. Supporting a blatantly bogus “anti-racist” cause is, of course, ultimately a support of racism.
    Donald Ewart Lewis

  25. Josh
    Posted August 19, 2019 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    “32 were white, six were African American and two were Asian, which almost perfectly matched the racial makeup of the city” – I find it weird. Isn’t there a correlation between social-economic status and petty theft, as well as between ethnicity and social-economic status?

    Does raising the question make me a racist?

  26. Corky Jung
    Posted August 19, 2019 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    My attempt at understanding the situation, I studied the Oberlin web site. I understood to a large degree when I read the biographies of the board of trustees, particularly that of the Chair.

  27. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted August 21, 2019 at 12:06 am | Permalink

    Interesting (from the linked article) that the members of the Socialist Workers Party (who happened to be in town) were sympathetic to Gibsons. The Old Left seems to have a lot more common sense than the New Left.

    cr

    • GBJames
      Posted August 21, 2019 at 7:05 am | Permalink

      The wisdom of old age, no doubt.

  28. Stephen Gross
    Posted August 28, 2019 at 11:02 pm | Permalink

    I graduated from Oberlin in 2000. It was a great education, and I retain a lot of love for the institution. With that said, the verdict–and the analysis–seem spot-on. I sincerely hope the school actually learns a lesson from all this.

    I am also astounded that the board has not fired Raimondo yet; surely the jury verdict is the clear piece of evidence the board needs to take action. I’m forced to conclude that the board wants to exhaust the entire appeals process before deciding what to do with Raimondo, which could easily take several years.


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