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Oberlin’s $44 million verdict could happen to any college — they’re all a mess

Yes, Oberlin is the latest Evergreen, Mizzou, etc.

The court coverage of the Oberlin College case by a reporter for Legal Insurrection has revealed some stunning — but not so surprising — details about what transpired in that small Ohio college town.

An Ohio jury recently ordered Oberlin College to pay $33 million in punitive damages (capped at $22 million) to the family-owned grocery store Gibson’s Bakery near campus, a store that has done business with the institution for a century. That amount was added to the $11.2 million in compensatory damages it awarded Gibson’s as well.

It all stemmed from a situation in November 2016 when three black Oberlin students were caught trying to steal from Gibson’s. Campus racial grievance groups accused Gibson’s of having racially profiled, and demanded Oberlin sever ties with the bakery. Campus administrators joined in the accusations and did cut ties with the business for a time.

What unfolded after that became fodder for a jury to hash out.

A highlight reel of sorts was posted on Twitter over the weekend by Legal Insurrection to showcase some of the insanity that was unveiled throughout the course of the trial.

Consider this exchange:

Gibson’s attorney Lee Plakas asked Protzman what was the reason for cutting ties with the business they had worked with for more than a century. He pointed out emails from various administrators that the student might have throw a “tantrum” on campus, specifically in the cafeteria while eating dinner, and that might be a good reason to get their cookies and bagels elsewhere.

“The concern was that the students were angry?” Plakas asked. “The fear was that angry students would throw food [made by Gibson’s] on the floor [of the cafeteria] and stomp on it?”

“Yes, that was one of the concerns,” Protzman answered.

“Doesn’t that sound more like a nursery school than a college?” Plakas continued.

“Nursery school students do throw food on the floor, yes,” Protzman said, adding “We are not the students’ parents,” as the reason the school could not tell the students to quit threatening to throw food on the floor and eat their dinner like nice people do.

For those who want more details of the “Student Food Stomp Threat,” the food to be flattened into the cafeteria tile was going to be donuts and bagels made by Gibson’s, but no one could was sure of the students were going to put cream cheese on the bagels before they jumped on them.

That and other gems were spelled out in the Twitter thread. Other details included that:

Police said campus administrators did nothing to quell the uproar of student protests and never told demonstrators that the bakery’s owners are not racists.

Witnesses said they saw a key administrator helping students protest the bakery with a megaphone and directing students to copy more fliers against the business.

Campus officials never did a proper investigation into the whole fiasco despite pledges to do so.

The patriarch of the bakery fell and seriously injured himself when his house was broken into after the protests (no one was arrested in the incident).

Emails among administrators espoused vulgar disdain for the bakery and its supporters with no regard to fact- or truth-finding.

Records showed that most of the people arrested at Gibson’s were white, and the breakdown in arrests actually mirrored the racial make-up of the city.

In response to the thread, National Review’s David French pointed out that “if you’ve closely followed the way administrators and student activists interact, nothing about this is particularly shocking — that’s one reason why the Oberlin result may well resonate far and wide.”

He’s right. Administrators don’t tell their students that their campuses and communities are not racist — they agree with those claims and pledge to fix it.

Campus presidents don’t crack down on and discipline students who act like toddlers — they appease them and apologize to them.

This case could have happened at any college in the nation.

Writing in The Hill, famed law Professor Jonathon Turley argued that “Oberlin College case shows how universities are losing their way” and that they better wake up:

Across the country, academics have caused lasting damage to their institutions by failing to stand up to, or actively supporting, extreme demands for speech codes, limits on academic freedom, and tenure changes. In Washington, Evergreen State College faculty members supported students who mobbed biology professor Bret Weinstein in a disturbing confrontation outside his office. The result was a significant $500,000 settlement with Weinstein and a major decline in applications. The University of Missouri experienced a similar meltdown on campus after assistant professor Melissa Click led attacks on a student journalist during heated protests in 2015. The university sought to accommodate protesters as applications plummeted and entire dorms were closed.

Other colleges have been hit with damages from students denied basic due process rights after being accused of sexual assault or harassment. While such rulings are mounting across the country, officials continue to ignore them and refuse to allow minimal rights for accused students. An even greater cost of acquiescence can be seen in reduced academic quality. Students increasingly demand changes based solely on the race or gender of authors, like Yale University students objecting that a course on English classics only included white authors like William Shakespeare.

We are reaching a critical point in higher education in the United States where leaders are ceding control to a small group of activist students and faculty members. Too often, those challenges are met not with acts of conscience but with cowardice. Professors fear being labeled as either insensitive or racist for objecting to protests or changes on campus.

Yes, Oberlin is the latest Evergreen, Mizzou, etc. And maybe, just maybe, if there are more $44 million verdicts in the offing, campus officials might make a change. But we at The College Fix won’t hold our breath.

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About the Author
Fix Editor
Jennifer Kabbany is editor-in-chief of The College Fix.