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Oberlin adds risk manager after Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit and too many others

Trustee cites Gibson’s Bakery lawsuit as just one legal headache the school has endured

Oberlin College’s record on lawsuits is so bad that it hired a new role this school year – a dedicated risk manager.

The college most famously paid out $36.6 million to local Gibson’s Bakery after its administrators were found complicit in damaging and false accusations of racism against the town staple. The damaging accusations of racism came after a bakery employee chased several black individuals who stole alcohol in November 2016 out of the store.

But that apparently is not the only legal trouble the school has run into, according to an article in the Oberlin Review. The opinion piece from the student newspaper’s editorial board lamented how the school’s uneasiness around further lawsuits might stifle its legacy as a liberal bastion.

“The board recognized our claims history was a lot greater than it should be for an institution of Oberlin’s size,” Trustee Chuck Birenbaum told the campus newspaper.

“The number of lawsuits, employment cases, Title IX claims, personal injury cases, the Gibson’s case — which we can call a torts case — all these claims demonstrated that Oberlin needed to take a hard look at itself in some ways that it hasn’t before,” Birenbaum, an employment and labor attorney by trade, told the campus newspaper. “One of the things that [Oberlin] did was it sought professional advice on risk management.”

The university also held an event recently to “explore a variety of topics, such as specific actions that could be attributable to the College (including social media and other speech), implications of actions taken pursuant to one’s employment, and the creation of obligations on behalf of the College.”

The board explained how this would affect students:

It seems unlikely that a college living in fear of litigation, and one that has used legal technicalities to dismiss concerns expressed in protest, will behave favorably toward activist efforts in the years to come. Further, several of these decisions were made unilaterally or without disclosure to the broader public. The room to have an effectively informed conversation is shrinking, which makes it tougher for students to know the stakes of what’s happening on our campus. This has the potential to limit students’ ability to organize and engage in discourse with administrators.

“Oberlin’s student body has historically been defined by its involvement in nationwide movements and activism in general,” the editors wrote.

“These tightening restrictions and a larger focus on risk management and liability within our administration threaten to curb the progressive nature of Oberlin and…limit what makes Oberlin the institution that drew many of us here in the first place,” the board predicted.

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Matt has previously worked at Students for Life of America, Students for Life Action and Turning Point USA. While in college, he wrote for The College Fix as well as his college newspaper, The Loyola Phoenix. He holds a B.A. from Loyola University-Chicago and an M.A. from the University of Nebraska-Omaha. He lives in northwest Indiana with his family.