The jury’s massive $44 million award in the lawsuit filed by Gibson’s Bakery and the Gibsons against Oberlin College (reduced by the judge to $25 million and likely to rise again as lawyers’ fees are tacked on) continues to generate national attention as well as negative editorials slamming the College. I am dismayed, to say the least, by the media’s portrayal of Oberlin as a college that delights in bullying local merchants, condones thievery, and promotes what one editorial writer labeled as “cruel, malicious, and vicious mob tactics.”
Having lived in the town and worked at the college for more than three decades, I know Oberlin as an institution that tries to take its local responsibilities seriously. College administrators, faculty, and staff are certainly aware of the ways, large and small, that its nearly 3,000 undergraduates can irritate the residents of this small town. Students wander across the streets seemingly oblivious to on-coming traffic, ride bicycles on downtown sidewalks, walk shoeless in December snows, and, yes, shoplift. This is not a defense of those actions, certainly not of shoplifting which, as I wrote earlier, is an infuriating example of class privilege as performed by some students. College administrators have never excused stealing even if they lack the means of putting an end to it.
But the outrage generated against student protesters who sparked the events at Gibson’s in November 2016 (“Jacobin mobs,” one person called them) seems extreme even in an age of extremes. Where, for example, were commensurate displays of anger when University of Michigan frat boys at a drunken ski party caused over $400,000 in damages, or when their counterparts at the University of Maryland trashed a villa in the Poconos?
Western civilization didn’t teeter at the cliff’s edge when an estimated 10,000 Kentucky students swarmed the streets of Lexington, overturning cars and setting fires after its basketball team stuffed Louisville. And yet the 125 Oberlin students protesting peacefully, if vocally, against what they saw as the racist actions of a local merchants – a Lorain County jury would come to a different conclusion as to the merchant’s intentions – are labeled a “PC mob.” One writer even equated the events at Oberlin with the “China syndrome,” the point reached during a nuclear accident “where chain reactions become impossible to stop or control.” (One might want to compare the above two photos at this point.)
Once again, just as the events which ultimately led to the jury’s immense award to Gibson’s were stand-ins for larger national angers, it seems clear that the resentments erupting in the aftermath of the verdict indicate that more is at stake than the harm done to a local merchant, as serious as that might be.
This should not be surprising, since it was an intended outcome of the trial. In his closing arguments to the Gibson’s jurors, the plaintiff’s lead attorney explicitly asked them to deliver a political message with their verdict. Indeed, lawyer Lee Plakas urged jurors to see themselves as combatants in a monumental battle, seemingly channeling Henry V’s rousing call to arms before the Battle of Agincourt. “You forevermore in this case,” he exhorted them, “will know that you executed, I hope, the power that helps our entire country, students everywhere. Forevermore,” he continued with Shakespearean gusto, “depending upon your verdict, you will be known as the Gibson Bakery jury or a Gibson Bakery juror. … To have that badge, to have that mantle — that is fate.”
The Bard aside, the national significance of the case was not lost on conservative commentators. As David French, a senior writer at the National Review put it, “the Oberlin trial is a blueprint for fighting back.” And so we must ask: Against whom or what are they “fighting back”? What lessons are to be learned that will help “students everywhere”?
Mr. Plakas pointed to the answer by arguing that higher education institutions must do a better job providing “discipline and guidance” to their students, adding that colleges like Oberlin are “not doing students any favors by letting them act like nursery-school students and threaten tantrums or throwing tantrums.” (I’ll resist the temptation to take the lawyer’s bait, only observing that in equating social justice protests to a toddler’s temper tantrums, the conservatives’ true target is clearly revealed.) But his remarks, as well as those of dozens of editorial writers, signal that regardless of the specific facts pertaining to this case alone, the future for students’ free speech rights is not bright; beyond the specific issues involved in the Gibson’s lawsuit, the verdict in the case will be used to target not only activist students, but also colleges that take seriously issues of equity, inclusion, social justice, and democratic engagement.
Many constitutional scholars have raised concerns as to what the verdict might portend for students’ free speech rights, warning that college administrators will be under tremendous pressure to “discipline” student activists lest they face the threat of massive lawsuits. In a widely quoted statement, Floyd Abrams, a First Amendment expert, saw in the jury’s verdict “a double-barreled threat to free speech on campus…The notion that uninhibited student speech can lead to vast financial liability for the universities at which it occurs threatens both the viability of educational institutions and ultimately the free speech of their students.” Avery Friedman, a constitutional law scholar at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, cautioned that, “Whatever misbehavior may have been involved with individuals, if the amount of a verdict is so staggering that it will chill speech and chill expression, then the First Amendment is diminished.”
Lynn Pasquerella, president of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), also found the judgment troubling. “Oberlin,” she argued, “was doing the very thing that the president [Trump] is now mandating — they were protecting the First Amendment rights of their students.” It is very unusual, she added, “for colleges and universities to be held responsible for the speech and actions of individual students, faculty and staff.” Even writers who felt that Oberlin College officials were culpable in the Gibson’s protest were concerned about the enticements embedded in plaintiffs’ huge payday. Conor Friedsdorf, a staff writer at the Atlantic who “celebrated” the Gibsons’ “happy ending,” worried that, “It would be a shame if jurors intent on vindicating the wrongly maligned wound up severely chilling protected speech too. This lawsuit,” he predicted, “may even inspire future litigation against colleges that chills protected speech, as plaintiffs seeking a similar payday attempt to target administrators for what students do on their own.”
One can already feel an approaching ice age. Rich Lowry, the National Review’s editor, called the verdict a “shot across the bow of well-heeled institutions tempted to join social-justice mobs.” Richard Epstein, a lawyer writing in the Hoover Institution’s “Defining Ideas” journal, warned that “the simple truth is that all forms of freedom, including speech, must be subject to needed constraints: no use or threat of force, and no use of lies to advance a political cause.” (One wonders if Mr. Epstein has wandered over to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” site lately. If so, he would have discovered the following headline from mid-June: “President Trump has made 10,796 false or misleading claims over 869 days.” No use of lies to advance a political cause?)
But there are even larger implications to the Gibson’s decision. As higher education has fallen victim to the national partisan divide, conservatives portray students who speak out on social concerns as “college mobs;” administrators who don’t crack down on them are chastised for “ceding control to a small group of activist students,” or for not “put[ting] an end to the out-of-control politically correct culture” at “these insulated left-wing incubators.”
Kevin Carey, director of the education-policy program at New America, is just one higher education analyst who has expressed a growing concern that outlets like Fox News and others “have turned difficult campus free-speech debates into a nightly drumbeat of manufactured outrage against colleges and universities…The anger builds, and soon the academy becomes the enemy and the other.”
The seemingly incommensurate temperature and volume of the anger reminded me of Joe Queenan’s 1992 humorous take-down of Dan Quayle (Imperial Caddy). “The way our society works is this,” he wrote. “The left gets Harvard, Oberlin, Twyla Tharp’s dance company and Madison, Wisconsin. The right gets Nasdaq, Boeing, General Motors, Apple, McDonnell Douglas, Washington, D.C., Citicorp, Texas, Coca-Cola, General Electric, Japan and outer space.” Were Queenan to update his book, perhaps now targeting Mike Pence, he could add to the conservative’s haul: the Supreme Court, the Senate, a chance to determine the makeup of every federal court for a generation, a free pass to gerrymander elections for political gain, Fox News, and the undermining of our very notion of truth. As for the left? We struggle to hold on to the little that remains, including colleges and universities that are not ashamed to see a concern for social justice and the betterment of the world as important subjects and outcomes of a demanding, intensive liberal arts education.
If you have doubts that colleges like Oberlin are being targeted by the right, read Richard Epstein’s previously cited commentary to its final sentence: “Oberlin College may well go bankrupt,” he concluded, “perhaps it should.” Just to be clear: Epstein is not your crazy uncle ranting on the Internet. He is an Oxford and Yale trained, libertarian constitutional lawyer at the Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
Oberlin is a strong institution, although we, like all but the wealthiest institutions of higher education, remain financially vulnerable. So, let’s just imagine that Mr. Epstein gets his wish and walk with me through the now college-less town of Oberlin, Ohio. The Gibson’s lawsuit, of course, was built on the premise that actions by the College and its employees triggered a loss of revenue (and reputation) for the bakery and store. Remove the college and the town’s merchants will see a drastic decline in the demand for the donuts and hardware and groceries and apartments and all the other goods and services they provide. How long would Gibson’s or other merchants remain viable? Remove the college from the town and you eliminate the free music lessons offered to young children in the area. Remove the college, and local high school students could no longer take free, credit-bearing courses in its classrooms. Remove the college and there would be vastly fewer concerts and lectures open to all. The local hospital would likely have to be shuttered, as would the town’s only movie theater (both of which were saved by the college). There would be no media literacy program, poetry classes, or Girls and Boys in Motion provided by college faculty and students to the public schools. No Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra. And how long before the century-old, world-class Allen Memorial Art Museum would have to close its doors? And, oh yes – gone would be the college that for nearly 200 years has produced Nobel Prize winners and MacArthur genius fellows, scientists of renown and musicians of exquisite talent, film directors and award-winning writers, teachers who bring their skills to K-12 programs across the country, professors who instruct at colleges and universities across the world, business executives, arts administrators, faith leaders, and tens of thousands of well-educated graduates who have worked, and continue working, to make the world a better place.
What Mr. Epstein and the conservative commentators who would just as soon see Oberlin vanish have forgotten is that the town depends on the college, and the college is made better by the town. This is a lesson we who live in Oberlin cannot forget even if those who don’t live here may choose to ignore it.
So, how do we, in Oberlin, respond to the challenges before us? I will leave it to the college’s attorneys, administrators and board of trustees to determine what, in their wisdom, is the best path forward on the legal front. But the rest of us, and particularly those who live in town and work at the college, need to roll up our sleeves, because there’s much work to be done. Many will have suggestions that we need to listen to. Here are my four ways to move forward:
- Start by using all the institutions, individuals, and opportunities available to help town and college engage in the conversations needed to begin the healing process.
- When the students return to class in the fall, help them understand the vital importance that free speech holds for them, and the dangers of chipping away at it by blocking the legitimate speech of those with whom they disagree. Students should not assume that the First Amendment will always be there to protect their speech, even less so if they act to undermine it. I have written previously (see here and here) on the challenges students face while attempting concurrently to protect free speech rights and shield vulnerable communities from provocateurs whose only purpose is to belittle them. This balancing act is not easily managed, nor will these challenges become any easier in the future. But strongly defending free speech at a time when others will challenge the students’ right to advance social justice issues will become even more important in the coming months and years.
- Faculty, above all, need to make students more aware of the ways that displays of privilege can damage their interactions with town residents. For students, this includes simple acts such as not assuming that they own the roads and sidewalks. But, most of all, it means not stealing from town merchants and calling out those who do. If their sense of morality doesn’t stop them, then their political conscience should. Shoplifting from local merchants is an obnoxious and offensive display of class privilege, and students need to be aware of how such acts impact others, as well as the college that has stood by them.
- This is the moment to embrace and enhance both our academic and artistic heritage of excellence and the fundamental importance of our social mission. We are, and have long been, a college and a conservatory that values a rigorous education, the importance of critical analysis, the ability to evaluate clearly and reflect deeply, and the importance of moving from theory to practice, from discerning to creating. Oberlin has long been motivated by it dual interests in locating its students in a demanding intellectual and creative community where they can learn and thrive, and with a desire to create democratic advocates and participants in broader communities who will use their talents to heal the world and address its injustices. Both approaches have made Oberlin an institution that so many are proud to be a part of. The best way to move forward is to recommit to both as we work with passion and intelligence to improve each.
55 thoughts on “After the Gibson’s Verdict: What Is at Stake”
I’ve been eagerly awaiting this post, and it did not disappoint. The sad irony is that the average conservative ‘townie’ like the kind you meet in the comments on Oberlin posts is being used as a pawn. Powerful interest groups like the Hoover Institution won’t be there when the town’s hospital is closing. They’ll be the ones closing it down. The Hoover Institution, the WSJ, and Dr. Jacobson’s legal blog – all hoping that their readers will keep cheering the destruction of “social justice warriors” until there’s nothing left but soulless corporatism. And then it’ll be too late.
There won’t be any winners in these cultural proxy wars, but there will be a whole lot of losers. I hope that neither Oberlin College nor Oberlin town end up as one when this all shakes out.
Pay the judgment and move on. Grow up.
Bill Hoover ’58 Ruby Valley Nevada
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Mr. Volk, your case is compelling, but are you not omitting what I gather is the fact that two Oberlin administrators were complicit in the actions against the Gibsons and crossed the line(s)? My understanding from the reading that I have done is that their actions had a great deal to do with the student ones and with the large judgments. Am I wrong?
That’s what the jury found, but I will say from personal experience of over 30 years that the idea that Oberlin students would do something because an administrator tells them to do it is nothing short of ludicrous. What a jury finds and what may be the truth of the issue are different things. But it n any case, my argument has always been that more is going on than the actual facts before the jury, otherwise it’s impossible to understand the huge judgment.
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I’m certainly not the least bit conservative; however, my take is this. When the college decided to quit ordering baked goods from Gibsons, it essentially gave its tacit approval to the boycott. This boycott was based on the false and hurtful premise that the Gibsons were racists. The idea of free speech should never be meant to support spurious and untrue charges against any individual or business.
Richard, I totally agree with you and would add that even if the Gibson’s had (at least mildly) racist views, the protest seems unwise because of the facts related to the shoplifting. And the College failed to stay neutral.
I was not there and can’t comment on the role of College personnel at the demonstration but the College appears to have made a huge error terminating it’s contract with Gibson’s. If I were a juror, I would totally read that as the College taking sides. The amount of the award is at least ten times what seems deserved, but still, what were they thinking? The other thing I haven’t read about is what reliable information was there that Gibson’s employees had a pattern of treating Black patrons unfairly? But even if true, choosing to protest the facts of this incident—chasing a shoplifter—this is a bad fact pattern to protest in the opinion of almost everyone. I absolutely don’t understand the students involved. Yes they have First Amendment rights but some wisdom is needed too. Steve Volk is surely correct about the true motivation of the College’s enemies but we don’t have to make it so easy for them.
Hindsight is 20/20, but I will only add what I know. The college cut off its order from Gibson’s (donuts and bagels) because the students said they simply wouldn’t eat them, and would, in fact, trash them. That’s a mark against the students, perhaps, but not necessarily the College. The other thing to keep in mind is that the majority of the time the order was suspended — something like 6 weeks — students were on Winter break, and not even on campus, so there wouldn’t have been any order in any kind. The jury took the suspension of the bakery order as evidence of complicity; not every jury in every town would have seen it that way. This one did.
Thank you for your insight.
An extremely important and articulate response to the multiple ways the case has been politicized in wider society. Without more information, I cannot exonerate the actions of administrators or college counsel, but Professor Volk makes the compelling case for defending campus free speech and defending higher education against the well-funded right-wing and corporatist assault.
You lost me at “well-funded right-wing and corporatist assault”. I don’t even know what that means. I don’t consider myself right-wing, but certainly see plenty of “left-wing” “assaults”. To me, best to speak to the issues without adding the bogeymen.
It doesn’t matter what conservatives or liberals think. What matters is that a jury found Oberlin guilty of defamation and tortious interference with the Gibson family business. You have cherry-picked the trial record, and are attempting to whitewash the college’s role. Neither you nor Oberlin has learned a single thing.
Oberlin and its culture of theft have been exposed, and their defamation has been punished in the manner prescribed by law: a hit to the wallet. The college will pay the judgment — sooner rather than later unless they are determined to continue their incomprehensible idiocy — and suffer the loss of several millions dollars a year in endowment income.
But that won’t be the end of it. Small liberal arts colleges have aggressively overpriced themselves, and Oberlin was already feeling the pinch before that mini-riot. It will now get worse, as parents wonder whether they should dig deep to fund an “education” like the one that Oberlin has been supplying.
You can whine to your worried heart’s content about all of this, and do the usual “progressive” chant about the “chill,” but the die is cast. How bad this will ultimately get is going to be partly a function of just when Oberlin and its “friends” decide that it just might be time to quit digging that hole even deeper. Couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.
Culture of theft? What evidence do you have of that? The student did steal the goods. However, I’d guess that this is very rare. The college has a responsibility to protect as well as discipline its students. My understanding that college personnel were present at the protest, but were there to protect the students’ rights to free speech and, as well,to keep the students under control. This is a pitiful mess, just because of the behavior of one dishonest student. Jane Coryell, Oberlin, 1958
“The Culture of Theft” was the title of an article in The Grape, a student newspaper at Oberlin College. The article appeared in December 2017 and is quite sobering. For instance, random students interviewed in Mudd Library admit to stealing $100 bottles of wine from Gibson’s. A local business estimates $10,000 shoplifting losses each year by Obies. During summer break the losses plunge!
DECEMBER 1 2017 by The Grape – Issuu
To me this is one of the most disturbing things about all of this. In what world do these students live, that they believe that stealing is OK? And why is this culture of theft allowed by the College to continue? Where is the respect for the larger community that hosts them? It sounds like the school needs a strict honor code. If you want to change the world Oberlin, please start in your own backyard.
I see almost all of my comments have been removed. Some commitment to “free speech” you hypocrites have. Typical “progressives!” LOL
Yes – I removed your comments when you stopped commenting in a way that not just raised differences with my approach (or those of other commenters) but could possibly move the discussion forward. Instead, you increasingly resorted to name calling (“hypocrites”) and attacks (“couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch”). My obligation to this site is to support reasoned discussion. It is not a soap box where any and all can hijack a conversation. I will continue to moderate this forum as a place where differences can be displayed, but the obligation of those who participate is to do so in a manner that helps our understanding rather than just attempting to score points.
Yes, of course! You are all for “free speech” except when it becomes a little too “free” for your “progressive” heart. You “understand” nothing, and are determined not to “learn” a single thing. Such is the way of every ideologue. Well, fine, but know that you are not one bit different from those who you think you oppose.
If you have something to add to the conversation from here on out, I will post it. This is not useful since it is basically composed of assumptions about my own capacity for learning. You’re welcome to find your own outlet, but you can’t turn this one into a mode of “conversation” which you seem eager to engage in.
Apologies for.this Anonymous post….I just have to do it this way.
Steven, in another post you said, “I’ll just have to buy my paper elsewhere”. How will this attitude help anything? Oberlin is a company town. The college is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. They are the Goliath to Gibson’s David.
I’m appalled by the.administration handling of this from the get-go. What are the townies and small biz owners to think when the College meekly sits back and lets unleashed students slander and destroy a local business? Set aside the legal issues, what about common decsncy?
The administration had the power from day one to nip this in the bud. Instead they fanned the flames and brought much harm to a college i love. And I find it incredibly stupid to continue court battles. The hit to Oberlin’s reputation, alumni giving and enrollment will be severe. This at a time when small liberal arts colleges such as Oberlin struggle to find a path to fiscal survival.
Negotiate a final settlement, apologize, create an Honor Code for student behavior in the town (don’t steal), then take initiative to publicly heal the town/gown split(start by having the next Trustee”s meeting catered by Gibson’s).
If you desire Oberlin to be a place dedicated to, in your words, “healing the world”, then you can start by buying your newspaper once more.at Gibsons.
Dear Anon OC87:
I very much appreciate your post and the questions you raise, even if I don’t agree with everything you say. I have been asked by a number of people why I added the last line (“I’ll just have to buy my paper elsewhere”) into what many saw as a post intended to speed the reconciliation process. Let me just respond to that rather than looking at what the administration did or didn’t do and what is the best way forward in a legal sense. I’ll start by saying that I very much look forward to the day when I can feel comfortable once again buying my paper, along with donuts, in Gibsons. If I don’t now, it is because I was deeply troubled by the gloating comments I heard from employees and customers in the shop in the days after the verdict. I’m not a very religious person, but I am deeply formed by my Jewish heritage, and we celebrate Passover every year at my house with a seder of 25-35 people. In the Haggadah (which a colleague and I write and update each year), we read of the Israelites celebration at the destruction of the Egyptian army when the Red Sea closed and swallowed them up. Stop your celebrating, God says, no one should celebrate the destruction of others. That is what I felt in Gibsons. An occasion that, for me, was profoundly sad and upsetting (one that will seriously weaken the college, something, as I have pointed out in another post, that is the stated goal of many on the Right), was met with joy and celebration. I understand why, but it didn’t (and doesn’t) make me comfortable in the store, which is why I wrote what I did. As I say, I look forward to shopping once more there, but I think the healing will need to begin with conversations elsewhere. Certainly, if I thought that such a simple action — buying my paper in Gibsons — would move the process forward, I wouldn’t hesitate. Again, thank you for your post, and I hope I’ve offered you some way to understand more fully why I wrote what I did.
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Gloating? After watching the behavior of the Tustees, Krislov, Raimondo and now Ambar, I’ll forgive Gibson’s and the townies just about anything. All the Gibson’s wanted from the beginning was a statement from Oberlin that they weren’t racists. Getting no response, the Gibson’s went to court looking for vindication. They got it. They’ve earned a victory lap.
And it’s not for them to be contrite and seek forgiveness, it’s us. The leadership, faculty, students and even alumni owe Gibson’s a big apology. We were 100% in the wrong.
Why shouldn’t they “gloat?” Oberlin’s conduct was egregious throughout, and continues to be so. The verdict was vindication. “Healing?” You and Oberlin have shown no desire to “heal” a single thing. All you and they have done is open up new lines of attack. Feel free to buy your newspaper anywhere you please; they don’t need your business or your overweening sanctimony.
Your criticism would be much more appropriately directed at Oberlin’s ongoing arrogance. The rules, and the law, apply to them too. They were wrong, and were found wrong by a jury in a fair trial. Oberlin should spare themselves yet further embarrassment and pay the judgment forthwith, lest the college suffer further declines in reputation, enrollment, tuition revenue, and alumni support. In short, it’s time for the doctorates to heal thyselves.
Hi Mr. Volk, Thanks for your writing on this. Yours were some of my favorite Government courses at Oberlin. Professors like you are a huge part of why I look back on my years there with affection and pride. I wish I could attend the panel this evening. Thank you for taking part.
Oberlin now costs $160,000/year/W-2 gross income to attend. So an A.B. costs $640,000 — before costs go up for the next four years. It’s reasonable to wonder: do people like this Volk person teach students? Evidently yes.
While Volk is free to parrot Ambar(“I’ll just go public and criticize the jury before the trial is even over”)/Raimondo (“I’ll unleash the students”)/Jones (“Eff ’em”, and “eff” is not the word he used) talking points about how OC is just defending free speech, one would think that for $160K/year the profs — event those at pasture — could think better. The case and litigation had no more to do with student free speech than it did with some phantom student dress code, or the rain in Spain is mostly in the plain, or the price of sugar in Iceland. The litigation speaks for itself. The four corners of the litigation are defined. OC was found at fault for malicious defamation and tortious interference.
If OC thinks free speech rights were abridged by … somebody … Gibsons? …. the Oberlin PD, OC is free to sue whomever they consider to be suppressing free speech. But free speech is a total red herring, and continues to create waves of ridicule for an institution everyone used to respect. OC doesn’t get to tell the judicial system which torts they wish to defend. If it weren’t so puerile, what OC is asserting now, it would be amusing.
Why OC’s president chose litigation instead of a settlement for $0.00 and a letter of apology speaks to her qualifications and inadequate preparation for her job. That she now wishes to sue her own attorneys for following her instructions is comical — unless you’re from a multi-generational alum, as am I. Good luck, Oberlin, hiring first-rate counsel on short notice now, having sued the prior team.
Postscript: labeling Oberlin skeptics as “right wing” (as though disqualifies thought and expression) simply furthers a very, very strong and increasingly popular opinion that $160,000 a year to listen to adolescent agitprop is an extremely expensive form of child abuse.
You are entitled to your point of view of this, just as I am entitled to mine. But at least get your facts straight. Oberlin is a very expensive college, to be sure. None of us likes that. But it doesn’t cost $160,000 a year, and I have no idea where that figure came from. For 2019-2020, tuition is $55,976 per year; when you add on room, board, and fees, the cost goes up to $73,694. And, while we’re on it: more than 2/3rds of Oberlin’s students receive need-based assistance, and Oberlin’s financial aid packages meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need for every student, both within and outside the United States. The funny thing about private colleges is that they remain one of the few institutions in the country that take from the wealthy (the full paying students) and give to those in need. (Regarding the points I raised about free speech threats IN THE FUTURE arising from this settlement, I cited both those who disagreed with the verdict and those who AGREED with the verdict as predicting that this would impact student free speech.)
Prof. Volk taught, was tenured and retired from Oberlin.. And people wonder why OC is borrowing money to pay current account bills — heat, maintenance, food, salaries, etc. His remarks are inaccurate and financially illiterate.
Volk: “But at least get your facts straight. Oberlin is a very expensive college, to be sure. None of us likes that. But it doesn’t cost $160,000 a year, and I have no idea where that figure came from. For 2019-2020, tuition is $55,976 per year; when you add on room, board, and fees, the cost goes up to $73,694.”
Well, Professor. First, $74K is before travel, clothing, books and summer expenses. So, $80K.
Second, to pay an $80,000 bill out-of-pocket, one conservatively needs to make $160,000 in W-2 incomd in OC’s principal recruiting target locales of NY, Boston, DC, Chicago, LA. In fact, in each of those locations one’s total tax load is greater than 50%. Now double that if, like many, one has two children in college simultaneously. OC considers this a reasonable ask.
In this respect, $160,000 is at the low end of what Oberlin asks parents to pay. The tax load in many places (e.g., those listed above) is greater than 50%. If the thought required, to understand why a family must earn in W-2 income twice what OC charges, here is the formula:
Total College cost per year / effective tax rate = total annual income required to attend OC. A conservative figure is therefore $160,000.
It is OC’s official position, and has been for 20 years, to skew admissions toward students who can and will pay full fare. Again, you note this as a feature, not a bug, in OC’s economic model.
One should note (the jury sure did) that $160,000 is nearly 4x the mean annual gross income of a family of four in most of the USA. Where I live mean family income is $43K. I live in a prosperous state.
It is remarkable that a lifetime prof at Oberlin doesn’t know what it costs to send a student to Oberlin. I should have thought it would be a simple calculation, and one, under the Finney Compact of faculty governance, *all* faculty should understand. Evidently they do not. Why are they in charge?
“And, while we’re on it: more than 2/3rds of Oberlin’s students receive need-based assistance, and Oberlin’s financial aid packages meet 100 percent of the demonstrated need for every student, both within and outside the United States.”
This is factually incorrect. Oberlin encourages students to borrow from the federal government — a process that today takes 30 minutes — and graduate with crushing debt. OC does not provide nor does it guarantee that debt. This is, however, how colleges seduce children into incurring six-figures of debt by age 21.
Second, Oberlin has ceased need-blind admissions, as Volk’s statement implies. Volk’s paragraph elides this fact, in the best characterization.
Returning to the notion that Oberlin relies on some students to subsidize other students: Oberlin does indeed impose this policy. Volk:
“The funny thing about private colleges is that they remain one of the few institutions in the country that take from the wealthy (the full paying students) and give to those in need.”
I gather the “take from the wealthy” trope is meant as an applause line, a selling point. It’s certainly meant as a virtue signal. Well. Perhaps OC should tell prospective parents (who do not want their children graduating with debt equal to the mortgage for a starter home) that their job is to pay more so that others’ children can go to college on their dime. Promote it! Highlight it! It will attract more full-pay students!
Again, as noted previously, it is, and has been, OC’s official policy (for a couple of decades) to enroll more full-pay students to tap in order to subsidize other students. Unfortunately that policy is failing.
Perhaps this is because financially literate parents who already pay $160,000 of gross current income to send a child to Raimondo for one year, bridle at the notion of being taxed again by a college (for others’ benefit), said college being busy lately trying to destroy a family business on College Street.
OC testified at trial that it suffers declining enrollment, declining selectivity and insufficient current income to meet current expenses. Oberlin presented, astonishingly, an argument that it is not a going concern and should therefore receive relief from the statutory award granted Gibson’s. It then sought relief, same justification, from providing a surety bond to cover Gibson’s (which will cost $4K/day) award while OC appeals. Evidently it didn’t occur to Ambar that if you plead poverty one day, it’s a poor strategy to, weeks later, say “We don’t need to ensure our ability to pay our obligation because we have so much money.”
I am happy to discuss further what it costs to go to Oberlin, why OC’s policies are driving away students that once would attend, and why the Ambar strategy of attacking Gibson’s was repugnant morally and imbecilic financially. I am not interested in discussing further the basic arithmetic of affording Oberlin annual bills. I learned that stuff in grade school.
Ah, so. Volk censors comments from people from multi-generational Oberlin families, too. Report to your struggle session, running dog intellectual! Here is your dunce cap!
This is just straight Marxist bullshit. Go to Oberlin — we’ll censor your remarks on our institution in perpetuity! Our opinions are more equal than yours!
I’m not quite sure why those who disagree with my views need to resort to a lot of name calling rather than just arguing the points raised – and I will assume nothing about your education or training, even though you assume a lot about mine. I don’t know which “multi-generational Oberlin families” you refer to but if that is you or someone you know, I would be more than happy to buy you a coffee or a beer and talk about these issues face to face. Perhaps then we can get to know one another and have a better conversation.
I haven’t “resorted to name-calling.” Once. The suggestion is risible.
I will let others read the exchange and judge for themselves as to whether there has been name calling. But for the “cost” of Oberlin, BuenaVista states: “Oberlin now costs $160,000/year/W-2 gross income” and I state, “But it doesn’t cost $160,000 a year.” Here, too, I’ll let readers determine whether “cost” is the same as saying “to pay an $80,000 bill out-of-pocket, one conservatively needs to make $160,000 in W-2 income.” But, I guess I’m just too dim to have figured out what BuenaVista had in mind when he wrote “cost.”
Nice piece, but… “Conversations” (your number 1) of substance do not often happen at the College. I’ve visited Oberlin a few dozen times since graduating in 1968 and been an active alum. Although somewhat liberal, I guess I don’t fit the usual Oberlin political mindset. Whenever I’ve brought up subjects like balkanization by race or sexual status, for example, administrators can’t quiet me fast enough. Indeed, on my last visit a dean was kind enough to speak to me at length. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand a word he said. Your number 2, I agree – but Administrators making clear what is or isn’t acceptable conduct never happened while I was at Oberlin, and I never heard of it since. My experience, also, is that faculty members, your number 3, may be brilliant academically, but are often as immature as the students in other ways.
Addressing these issues remains a work in progress. There’s much that happens on what the artist Manny Farber called the “termite” level. If you don’t see evidence of this during your visits, it doesn’t mean that work isn’t happening — or that much more needs to be done. I hope you will trust to the maturity of many on campus to continue this work.
Testing to see if word press will let me log in. Those of us who do not support Facebook nor Twitter are often frozen out of blog discussions due to the glitchy software and incompetent consultants who set up these accounts. I urge such sites to set up alternative means of logging in.
Dear Prof. Volk:
Thank you for opening up a blog forum to discuss the Gibson’s case. It has been frustrating to see the college refuse to allow any discussion of the topic on the website or Facebook page, and that frustration has in the meantime boiled over into other unofficial forums, where the discussion is often ill-informed.
I am particularly frustrated with the way Oberlin has been dragged through the mud by right-wing pundits and trolls. Where I differ from your view is that I consider the Oberlin College administration to be responsible for much of the damage. Many alums who care about Oberlin are angry for this reason.
Here are some of my concerns regarding the case, which I have already communicated to the College Administration and legal counsel, with no response.
If President Ambar’s account of the case is true, and the case is essentially about students’ free speech rights, it is hard to imagine how a jury could have found in favor of Gibson’s. Perhaps, in the end, Oberlin College will prevail on appeal and the verdict will be overturned.
While I would welcome such a vindication, as an alum I am concerned that the college is avoiding a discussion with the alumni about “lessons learned.” Most external commentary defending Oberlin (based on the Forbes and Academe posts) concluded that Oberlin College administration was stupid, but not (legally) culpable. The college has so far focused on the legal part of the problem. The broader college community, including town residents and business, as well as many current and past faculty and alumni, are more likely to focus on the “stupid” part. How does the college believe the college’s management of the controversy, independent of the final damages award, or even a possible reversal of the verdict, will impact town-gown relations, prospective student applications, and alumni contributions?
In particular, it seems to me that the college still fails to recognize the toxic fallout from Dean Raimondo’s actions, independent of her legal culpability. The college seems confident that Dean Raimondo did not overtly advocate for the boycott, or accuse the bakery publicly of racism. Yet Dean Raimondo’s infamous email struck me as very damaging to the college’s case, and to Oberlin’s relations with the community in general, including the alumni. President Ambar and Dean Raimondo brushed this incident off as a lapse in professionalism, which was disciplined by the college. Whatever that discipline was, the impact of its intemperate and obscene rebuke of Prof. Copland went beyond a lack of professionalism, to include arrogance, contemptuousness, a readiness to take revenge for a dissenting view, and the suggestion that she was already working hand-in-glove with students in an advocacy role.
Did VP Jones and Dean Raimondo ever apologize to Prof. Copeland for the vulgar language they directed at him in their emails? Apologies to him and to the Oberlin community are in order, in my opinion. Furthermore, while Dean Raimondo and the college may claim that the email did not prove any effort by her to promote the boycott, a reasonable person can certainly conclude whose side she, as an agent of the college, was on. Even if the verdict is overturned, her actions, along with those of other college administrators, leave a black mark on Oberlin.
Here’s a simple rule, which I’m surprised Oberlin did not impose earlier: prohibit any emails by faculty or staff with college agency on any potentially litigious issue, without exception. I learned this rule from our college counsel at my institution as chair of the tenure committee, and have found it to be an important part of protecting the college’s interests.
As a result of the email fiasco, has the college considered that, if someone less partisan than Dean Raimondo had represented Oberlin in its public handling of the student protests, the verdict and damage award could have been avoided? A possible lesson worth considering.
As an alum and as a faculty member at Babson College, I view with concern the increasingly fragile state of many colleges’ finances, putting a high premium on the value of their reputation and broader relations with alumni and the college community. It seems that Oberlin College, despite its sizable endowment, is not immune from these pressures. In the last few years I have observed, in New England alone, the closure of Atlantic Union College, College of St. Joseph, Mount Ida College, Newbury College, Southern Vermont College and Green Mountain College, the reduction of Hampshire College to an incoming fall class of 15, and the mergers of numerous other colleges in financial peril. As a ’76 Oberlin grad, I also observed the consequences of Antioch College’s self-inflicted wounds, beginning in 1974. My own institution, a business school, also faces financial challenges (MBA programs in our case), and we had a particularly difficult community issue involving Babson students on the same post-Trump day as the Gibson’s Bakery incident. Luckily, we emerged from that incident without a lawsuit, and sadder but wiser.
I am hopeful that President Ambar, the trustees and the college as a whole can draw the necessary lessons from not only the legal, but also the community, impact of the Gibson’s case. In this regard, I am concerned that the college may not yet recognize the nature and extent of the damage that has been done, and which must be repaired.
Kent Jones, ’76
When you mentioned Richard Epstein as a libertarian, I thought this was another case of misidentifying a conservative with free-speech supporting libertarians – but you’re right, at least insofar as he does, sometimes, self-identify as such. I discovered libertarianism, a lifetime political philosophy, in 1973, the same year I graduated from Oberlin. We “true” libertarians identify the Epsteins as liberventionists or paleoconservatives. I urge readers of your fine essay to click on the link to the Epstein piece, as it brings up some disturbing points about OC’s behavior and legal arguments that I had not seen before; presumably true?. Nevertheless, allowing this verdict to stand would be a severe blow to the speech and assembly guarantees of the first amendment. I would like to see arguments made, perhaps as an amicus, that even if the college had fully endorsed and facilitated the demonstration, the case against it fails on constitutional grounds. Labor unions, think tanks, churches, and other institutions fund and organize demonstrations; they, and colleges, should enjoy the same first amendment protections as individuals. OC may wish to distance itself from the individual demonstrators for pragmatic reasons, or because it realizes that it is not the role of the university to engage in protest, but it should be no less free to do so than other institutions.
In this case, however, there was found to be defamation, which is not protected by the First Amendment.
Here is an excellent, very readable link which takes you succinctly through the main points of the case, with the evidence the jury saw. Please take a moment to read this, those of you who have not yet seen it! It’s quite interesting, and very important for understanding why the jury came to the conclusions they did.
Click to access FAQs-re-Gibsons-Bakery-v.-Oberlin-College.pdf
Wow! The trial testimony is devastating. And the jury in agreement 8 to 0…
Thank you for providing this link. I just spent an hour reading this material and now the whole terrible story becomes understandable. A few Oberlin administrators deserved to lose their jobs, such reckless things having been done. The whole free speech and right-wing conspiracy angle to the story seems to melt away.
I am sure Prof Volk has had a distinguished career and appears to be an example of the best kind of Oberlin academic, who enthusiastically supports Oberlin (as did I until this Gibson fiasco emerged).
But he conspicuously ignores the basic issue which is NOT free speech. The fact is that Oberlin as an institution and some of its officers (eg the Dean) ACTIVELY participated in the unjustified slander of an innocent local business.
Epstein “https://www.hoover.org/research/race-madness-oberlin-college” in my opinion has it right:
“Oberlin then soberly concluded that “colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students.” This same theme was echoed by noted First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, who warned ominously, that “the notion that uninhibited student speech can lead to vast financial liability for the universities at which it occurs threatens both the viability of educational institutions and ultimately the free speech of their students …”
Sound legal principles, sadly misapplied by Oberlin. The trial judge allowed in evidence of collaboration between the College and its students. It was therefore no surprise that Oberlin’s claim of independence fell flat on its face before the local jury in light of extensive evidence that the Oberlin administration had backed, and even led, the protests against Gibson’s. Next, Oberlin made the huge strategic mistake of insisting that any defamation that did occur could not have caused any real losses to Gibson’s since the business was worth only about $35,000 prior to the protests. That figure ignores all the personal financial losses to members of the Gibson family, and it represents a near scandalous disrespect for Gibson’s once-thriving business. Does anyone seriously believe that Gibson’s would have sold out for such a paltry sum?
In this hotly contested trial, this outlandish claim invited a jury to conclude that Oberlin’s unrepentant stance proves that the College just does not appreciate the havoc wreaked by its virulent social justice warriors. At the punitive damage stage of the trial, Oberlin’s lawyer, Rachelle Kuznicki Zidar, touted that the College was going to reengineer its admissions program to avoid future conflicts of this sort. But in light of its obvious misconduct, this promise was too little, too late.”
I’m sorry, Prof Volk. You are on the wrong side of this issue. Oberlin as an institution has disgraced itself and maybe ruined an innocent and excellent local business, by passing judgement without any EVIDENCE of racism. In fact, witnesses at the trial gave numerous examples of the opposite.
It’s too bad many students (and maybe Oberlin faculty and administration) were disappointed by Trump winning the election. Many others were disappointed when Obama was elected. Or Bush. Or Clinton. Or…
The one thing that distinguishes the United States from nearly all lesser countries is the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to the next. By not even mentioning this, along with the “guilty until proven innocent” racism charge, Oberlin has failed in its responsibility of being an adult role model for its students.
Again to quote Epstein
“There are several takeaways from this case. It is tragic that a college once known for its educational innovation and excellence should now be defined by its most extreme elements, and that internal discourse at Oberlin must necessarily falter because only its most militant voices can be heard. Although it is too easy for people like Floyd Abrams to ignore the generational chasm in free speech, the simple truth is that all forms of freedom, including speech, must be subject to needed constraints: no use or threat of force, and no use of lies to advance a political cause.
Oberlin seems to have forgotten that lesson and will have to pay the price, both financially and reputationally. Sensible students may well look elsewhere for higher education, rather than endure a potential torrent of abuse inside and outside the classroom. The same applies to sensible faculty. Perhaps even sensible alumni will hold off on making gifts to the College. I doubt that a wounded Oberlin can reverse its sharp, leftward trend. Oberlin College may well go bankrupt. Perhaps it should.”
Pretty tough. It’s up to Oberlin to prove him wrong. So far I see no sign of this happening…
Dear Mr. Wally ’63:
Thanks for your comments. As I write about this issue, I will continue to maintain that, GOING FORWARD, free speech is the fundamental issue at stake here “regardless of the outcome” of this specific case, as I have written. But I want to comment on a few of your points. The first is in response to your opening paragraph (and thank you for your kind, if perhaps undeserved, words). You state that, until the Gibson’s event, you, too, were an “enthusiastic” supporter of Oberlin. Let’s say that you are correct and I am wrong – that this was, as you put it, a “fiasco” and that the students and the college were 100% wrong. Are you ready to see this institution vanish (as Epstein, whom we both quote seems to favor) because of one action by perhaps 125 students? The second point, which I raised in my article, is that, contrary to what Epstein implies, the students neither used nor threatened force during their demonstration. The question has always been about what they said, not their methods. There was certainly more of a threat of violence in the air when a large number of bikers showed up on that Saturday, Nov. 12, to support Gibson’s. (And, as for lies used to promote political causes, I refer you back to my article.) My point has always been that this is an issue that managed to morph from a shoplifting incident at a local store to a $44 million award (now reduced). Proportion has always been lacking here. Arguing that Oberlin should “go bankrupt” because of one event only perpetuates the same dynamic. I ask you to think about proportionality (think of it, perhaps, in terms of just war theory: use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated), as we at Oberlin engage in the education and learning that this event requires.
Dear Professor Volk,
Thanks for your fast reply! My response:
“ > > “Are you ready to see this institution vanish (as Epstein, whom we both quote seems to favor) because of one action by perhaps 125 students? “ > > No. The response was/is by OBERLIN – administration and staff. They could/should have stated there is a requirement called “burden of proof” that needs to be established before a charge like racism is made. This has nothing to do with free speech, etc. > > If Oberlin, an institution to which I have already given a large amount of money, vanishes, it’s because of their support of defamation and subsequent lack of contrition, not the activities of some students. > >> >> >> “this is an issue that managed to morph from a shoplifting incident at a local store to a $44 million award (now reduced). Proportion has always been lacking here. Arguing that Oberlin should “go bankrupt” because of one event only perpetuates the same dynamic.” >> >> Maybe there is a lack of proportion as you say. But this is hardly unusual in cases like this when juries are asked to assess damages. >> >> That’s why wealthy instutions like Oberlin need to pay special attention to the consequences of their activities, especially when they involve personal and economic harm to others. As has been noted by others, the first amendment does not say defamation is an OK exercise of free speech. >>
Bill (in Deauville) on my iPad Air > “In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is.” > Yogi Berra
Professor Volk, would you have found it proportional if the Gibsons had been driven out of business? This is what almost just happened, there in your small town. A small family business that had survived for more than a century and was loved and respected by so many—including a great many Oberlin College students down through the decades—was nearly ruined.
Punitive damages are meant to cause serious pain, so that the offender will realize the mistake and refrain from making it again. It would seem, however, that in this case the offender has no sense of contrition at all. Perhaps the damages have been set too low.
I wonder if I can offer perspective as a childhood “townie” of Cornell University (who’s father owns a local business) and an alum of Oberlin College (and former student of Prof Volk). As Volk describes, Oberlin has a way of becoming a microcosm for larger American cultural conversations.
One thing that bothers me about the national discourse in this (presidential primary) moment is the forced juxtaposition of the “Midwest versus the Coastal Elites” — for many pundits, “Midwest” has come to mean a very specific subset of Americans: conservative, poor, white, rural, straight. The truncation of this group under the label Midwest (or “Southern,” or “rural”) has allowed right-wing media to simplify a complex political moment into an “us vs. them” zero-sum game. However, this harmful simplification sometimes leads to blatantly nonsensical conclusions; see https://splinternews.com/just-try-to-understand-this-nyt-editors-racist-incoher-1836849543 .
I see a bit of this in the “town vs. gown” battle on Oberlin campus. I won’t address all the facts in the Gibsons case but I supported the protests in 2016 and I still believe that they were justified. However, what was a very specific response to a specific incident quickly became a caustic and partisan political fight. I believe this was a difficult experience for townies who weren’t in the Gibsons family. Back in 2016, I brought the conflict up with a local shop-owner and she started crying as she described how she loves students and supports anti-racist efforts, but she also feels impacted and hurt by student shoplifting. Normally this wouldn’t be a contradictory sentiment but I think she was feeling the “us vs. them” framing quickly crystallizing and finding it restrictive. In fact, many Oberlin businesses supported the protests privately or publicly.
The power of the “us vs. them” framing is evident in it’s heavy usage by the plaintiff, the National Review, and the larger conservative media. I’m trying to put myself in the shoes of an Oberlin townie and imagine my response to the whole situation. If this had happened on Cornell campus, I would resent the presence of national news media in my town. I would hate the way me and my community was painted with a broad brush. And I would feel silenced — implied that I don’t belong where I am because I don’t agree with what the media says my community agrees with.
Townies are not all conservative and not all racist. They are not all white, not all straight. My experience with Oberlin residents has not been all positive — I’ll never forget the experience of being called a f*ggot by a passing car near campus. But I’m big enough to understand the futility of political generalizations and sweeping narratives.
P.S. As a former townie, I support jaywalking. 🙂
Having read so much about the case, I’m mystified how you can think that the protests “were justified”?
“Having read so much about the case”
^ There’s your problem. Please consider that you don’t fully know what it was like to be on campus during this time. Here’s another perspective that might be helpful: https://kamerondunbar.com/2019/07/27/the-night-we-decided-to-boycott/
I already read that piece, but I know that 1. Stealing is wrong, 2. There was absolutely no evidence of racism presented at trial, and, indeed, numerous African Americans and others stated that as employees or customers they never saw it. Indeed, President Krislov, too, said that he never heard of such. And, the thieves admitted that they were not racially profiled. 3. My experience is that suggestions of racism are much too casually thrown around at Oberlin, and these suggestions may have serious, long-term effects. Relatedly, my experience is that Oberlin students and faculty are often brilliant academically but immature in other ways. 4. It is clear that the College made the situation worse, and that it is oblivious to the above issues involved.
Responding with respect to Jeff Schumer:
1. Yes, stealing is wrong.
2. That there was no evidence of racism presented at the trial and that the shoplifters all stipulated that the actions of Allyn Gibson (the young Gibson on the register that night) were not racially motivated, neither proves nor disproves the charge. In terms of the latter, obviously one would stipulate to that if the alternative were having to face a felony trial in Lorain County. In terms of the former, I believe College officials were very constrained in what they offered at trial since they (College officials) have always maintained that the charges of racism against Gibson’s were charges made by the students, not the College. The College never felt it had to argue that Gibson’s was or was not racist since the College itself (in its defense), always maintained that it didn’t put forward that characterization of the store or its owners. As to whether many have testified that the store owners were not racist, I would only suggest that there are others from the town who weren’t at trial who would have other things to say about that. Racism is a complex issue, and, for me, the most concerning issue left in the wake of the trial is that there is abundant evidence of racist practices in the town (and the college, for that matter). I would call your attention to the recently published “Elusive Utopia” authored by two Oberlin historians, Gary Kornblith and Carol Lasser, who meticulously trace the rise of racism in the town in the post-Civil War era up through the 1920s (when the book stops) and beyond (as will be forthcoming in a second volume). This trial makes it harder to talk about the issue for fear of legal liabilities, but the issue remains among the most serious that we face in this country, as well as a serious issue in the town.
3. Thank you for suggesting that “Oberlin students and faculty are often brilliant academically,” but I’m not sure what you mean by “immature in other ways.” That many of us care about social justice issues? How does our immaturity play out here?
4. Regardless of how the College handled this, it (administrators, faculty, etc.) are hardly oblivious to the issues involved. We are, in fact, deeply concerned.
I guess I’m just getting old and curmudgeonly, but still a thought or two. In my 50+ years since Oberlin I have always had African American (and other minority) friends, colleagues, and bosses. I’ve seen an African American President elected twice. I’ve lived in Virginia (!!) with a black governor and Baltimore with almost entirely African American “leadership”. So, I think there may be more productive ways of promoting “social justice” than focussing on what may or most likely may not be racism.
As far as “immaturity” with respect to social justice issues, I remember the fights over disinvestment in South Africa; I don’t recall a single person at the College asking what will happen to poor blacks with divestment. It was always about feeling good about oneself. I’d also ask if any “social justice warriors” at the College could explain why about half the country (the deplorables) voted for Trump. I doubt it.
I’m sure we disagree in part on these issues, but I do appreciate the ability to have a conversation – Doesn’t often happen overtly at the College from my experience.
Not a grad, , but I did spend my first two years there before moving on to OSU ( for the biological sciences and the football 😊
My question for you is this: laying aside the legal issues, how can OC repair its relationship with the surrounding community? My friend who still lives there reports that the locals are not resentful of the students, but are bitter towards the administration. Does this match your perception?
But the big question is where does the college go from here? It can’t allow this to fester too much longer. How does the administration regain the community’s trust?
Hi, Maria. Hope both the biology and the football worked out for you! You raise some really good questions, which I don’t think I can answer fully. Certainly, many in town have long held grudges against the College, some deserved, some not so much. We are, after all, the 900 lb. gorilla in town. Let me give you one example of how this has worked. Some years ago, after a lot of consultation, the School Board in town decided to rename the high school mascot from the “Indians” to the “Phoenix.” I don’t have to explain why. In any case, there were a few individuals associated with the College who were on the School Board at that time. Raise the issue of the name change today among many town residents and they still blame the College for throwing around its “politically correct” weight and “forcing” the name change. Maybe that can give you a sense of what I mean. In terms of how we regain the community’s trust, all I can say is that many of us, from the town and the College, are working on this in a variety of ways. Hopefully, we can begin to close the gaps that the trial has widened.
Thank you professor Volk for hosting, and participating in, this blog. I just discovered it and have read your July 12 posting and all related comments made. I find the discussion informative but am struck by your early citation of legal scholar Richard A. Epstein (6/2019). Epstein says: “…the simple truth is that all forms of freedom, including speech, must be subjected to needed constraints:…..no use of lies to advance a political cause.” No use of lies to advance a political cause! We all need to think about that one. This is an extraordinary anti-democratic position. It is the mantra of authoritarian/fascist governments worldwide. Who determines the “lie”? Of course, it’s the government in power. If this “constraint” on speech is in place, there is no democracy. I also find it extraordinary, especially at this time in our nation’s history, that only one alumnus commented on this quote. And that comment was in approval! We need to be concerned with Oberlin but also with the currents in the wider world.
But falsehoods from either (any) side of the political spectrum need to be revealed through the exercise of 1st Amendment rights or recourse to the courts. It is not just a problem of right wing deception.
I hope you all read the recent article in “Commentary” by retired Oberlin professor Abraham Socher. I think it’s a good recap of everything that has been wrong, and is still wrong at the College.
I believe that the only real solution, which won’t happen, is for the College to be reconstituted, with new Trustees and a commitment to real education, including a respect for the truth. I would hope for adult leadership, and leaders who are able to push the College in that direction.
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Thank you for this thorough and thoughtful analysis. Gary Kornblith and Carol Lasser pointed me here after an email conversation about how things are “on the ground” at Oberlin. I’m looking forward to continuing to follow your blog! I miss my time as an Oberlin student and all that it entailed, including learning how to think critically about my own speech and the actions of myself and others. I hope that we have the strength as a nation (and a human species) to emerge from this chilling time without losing our respect for each other’s potential to contribute to a better future…
~Adina Langer ’06