The WSJ is a conservative paper, of course, but it would be hard for anyone to defend Oberlin College’s behavior toward Gibson Bakery and Market when the college itself engaged in demonizing the local business, cut off commercial relations with it, and tried to characterize the Bakery as racist. The outcome: a local jury awarded Gibson’s $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages. That award will almost surely be reduced later, but it’s still a huge hit, and a public embarrassment, for Oberlin. But, as the evidence showed, the College was guilty of libel. Gibson’s was not racist, did not engage in racial profiling, and yes, the College did try to damage the business.
The WSJ’s take doesn’t say much that’s new, but there is one telling sentence uttered by Oberlin’s President. The article is behind a paywall but I’ve managed to get a copy.
You might also be interested in reading Oberlin’s self-serving document “Facts and Background About the Lawsuit Filed by Gibson’s Bakery Against Oberlin College,” which, in my view, is a whitewash of what Zefrank 1 would call “the true facts”. The document even minimizes the College’s own attempt to placate the students by temporarily cutting off business with Gibson’s:
Why did the College temporarily suspend its baked goods orders with the Gibsons after the protest?
Among students, tensions remained high. Administrators sought to de-escalate that tension and looked for opportunities to rebuild trust between students and members of the community. A primary point of contention for students was the College’s continuing business relationship with Gibson’s. In an effort to remove issues that might provoke further confrontation, the College temporarily suspended its daily baked goods order with the Gibson’s on November 14, 2016.
During the suspension, students were still able to use Obie Dollars to purchase items at Gibson’s, and faculty and staff could still use departmental funds to pay for baked goods and other items.
Really? The College decided to “rebuild trust between students and members of the community” by punishing the bakery? What befuddled administrator had that idea?
A college with neurons would not have taken this step, admittedly designed to placate the students who were outraged that Gibson’s apprehended three black students for shoplifting and assault. (It came out in the trial that Gibson’s did not engage in racial profiling and had no history of racism.) A college with neurons would also have been aware of the legal consequences of such an action. A college with neurons would not have tried to incite the students in demonstrating against Gibson’s, or tried to placate students making untrue complaints. (The students, of course, were free to engage in legal demonstration and counter-speech. The College was not free to engage in damaging Gibson’s.)
The excerpt from the WSJ is below, and I’ve bolded the curious part:
The student protesters were only the proximate cause of Oberlin’s problem. The jury wasn’t particularly interested in the student protesters or their accusation of “racism,” which presumably remains protected opinion.
What really interested the jury was the actions of senior managers at Oberlin College as they related to the protesters’ other accusation against Gibson’s Bakery—that it practiced racial profiling, which is a substantive act, not mere opinion.
After the protests erupted, Oberlin suspended the college’s baked-goods orders with the Gibsons. In its official fact sheet about the event, Oberlin says it suspended the bakery “in an effort to remove issues that might provoke further confrontation with the students.”
. . . Oberlin’s president, Carmen Twillie Ambar (who was appointed nine months after the incident), visited the Journal’s editorial page Wednesday to discuss the decision and hopefully, she said, some issues on which “conservatives and progressives could agree.”
She told us Oberlin hasn’t decided whether it will appeal, but decried “using the legal system to punish opinion.” Not many in the opinion business would disagree with that.
But President Ambar also said: “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true.”
Well, Gibson’s bakery and Oberlin’s students might have experienced different emotions, and if “having divergent emotions or reactions” is a “truth”, then yes, that’s true. But President Ambar is implying here that one group of students can see the bakery as racist and the bakery can see itself as not racist, and they can both be right.
This, however, is not a matter of opinion, but of fact: the students’ “lived experience” does not in fact correspond to reality. It was a delusion, fueled by their unfulfilled social-justice rage. Oberlin helped fuel that rage, and colleges do not have “lived experience.”
The jury recognized that, and that jury, which apparently has more sense than President Ambar, decided that there were facts to be sorted out rather than just throwing up its hands and saying “both sides are professing truth.”
President Ambar has clearly bought into the worst form of “wokeness”: the claim that there is no objective truth and that “lived experience” is the arbiter of reality. But this postmodern cant didn’t fly with the local folk on the jury.
President Ambar says in the interview that Oberlin has not yet decided whether to appeal (this is harder in a civil case like this than in a criminal case). I hope, though, that no matter what they do, Oberlin will have to dig deep in their pockets to pay out Gibson’s. It’s time that colleges recognize that there’s a price to be paid for placating student outrage at the expense of the truth.