The Wall Street Journal on Oberlin vs. Gibson’s

June 28, 2019 • 11:47 am

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.

h/t: cesar

18 thoughts on “The Wall Street Journal on Oberlin vs. Gibson’s

  1. The Oberlin administration undoubtedly discovered the hidden racism of Gibson’s Bakery and its owners through the methods of a new academic subject which its acolytes call “Whiteness Studies”. Scholars of this field specialize in the discovery of unconscious prejudices, implicit biases, microaggressions, and unintentional institutional racisms, using methods akin to those of Cotton Mather’s “Wonders of the Invisible World”, that pioneering 17th century manual on how to discover agents of the Evil One.

    One of the key insights of Whiteness Studies is that White people typically reveal hidden racism by denying their racism, just as the owners of Gibson’s Bakery did. This behavior is termed “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, a noted professional consultant in the Whiteness Studies field. White Fragility is also a symptom of the dangerous character defects of those who neglect to hire a Whiteness Studies expert, such as Ms. DiAngelo, as a consultant. The price of these consultation services is going steadily up, as more and more symptoms of White Fragility are discovered by professionals in this burgeoning field.

  2. Relativism means never having to say you’re sorry, because it means you never did anything wrong. It’s part of the whole post-Enlightenment project to find a way out of the headlock of truth.

  3. It seems pretty clear the school and it’s students have learned nothing from this. Apparently you cannot teach a young dog new tricks.

  4. “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true.”
    I will forever remember this as the “Oberlin Paradox”.

    1. Two different lived experiences that are both true are: 1) Oberlin lost; 2) Gibson Bakery won.

      This is probably not what Ambar meant and, worse still, does not seem to have been a learning experience for the college president.

    2. I take it that, in pleading guilty to theft, the students and Gibson staff had the same lived, shared experience.”

  5. The Oberlin president is not yet fully fluent in Wokespeak. If she were, she would not have used the word “true” in connection
    with those “different lived experiences”.
    The very concepts of “true” and “false” embody oppressive, colonialist patriarchy. The approved word is “centered”.

    On the other hand, Oberlin’s lived experience of shelling out $44 million, or however many millions it ends up, could be an educational experience for the college regents, if not for president Twillie Ambar.

  6. A ‘lived non-experience–fine. But can anyone give me an example of a
    non-lived experience??

  7. I don’t see much distinction between this unwarranted elevation of “lived experience” and religious faith. In both cases the validation is internal and beyond challenge.

    If a person of color experienced waiting at the bakery counter while late-arriving white customers were served and was told to “ pipe down, Boy” when they complained, then that might be considered a “lived experience” — but it’s not an inherently subjective thing. I think it would just be called “evidence.” What the Oberlin President seems to be invoking is the inner knowing of a personal narrative, one which resembles a Walk With God. If you think you experienced God, then you did. No one can say otherwise.

  8. Good grief! Not wanting to endure more student unrest is a legitimate goal, but the means is not to cancel the donuts. Better simply to endure their self-righteous clamoring and if they resort to violence, “ask” them to leave the college until they grow up.

  9. The verdict was good but the $11,000,000 punishment was excessive.

    At the trial, Gibson’s expert “testified that the actions of the Oberlin College .. will cost Gibson’s Bakery $5.8 million in lost revenue over the next 30 years.” That mean that in two years, Gibson lot about $400,000.

    I realize $400,000 is a ton of money for a family but it is not ever 5% of 11 million.

  10. Like our fearless president once said, “There were good people on both sides”. Kelly Ann Conway is comfortable with using “alternative facts.” I’ll go with Pogo, who said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

  11. I am having a living experience that Ambar’s claim that “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true.” can’t be true. And we are both right.

    1. A little philosophical logic would have nipped some of the subjectivist nonsense in the bud.

      For those who think that “lived experience” can be true, please provide a theory of truth where that is the case. (Hint: I’ve never seen any theory of truth which is not language-like in the referent of the truth predicate.)

  12. Either there was nothing learned by the Oberlin president or she is just placating woke students to make her life easier. Sets a great example either way! Probably a bit of both.

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