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Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Alumni Weekend – Oblivious alums in for a shock if college loses

Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College – Alumni Weekend – Oblivious alums in for a shock if college loses

“I am sort of surprised the alumni aren’t sharing this around given that this school has always kept civil rights and protests and free speech in the forefront,” said one woman.

Plaintiffs have rested their case, and survived a motion for a directed verdict, in Gibson Bros. v. Oberlin College. The events giving rise to the lawsuit have been said to represent “the worst of identity politics.”  You can read about some of the background on this case here.

This weekend has been the Oberlin College commencement weekend, and the school combines that with a reunion of alums. I attended various events, and talked to a number of alums about the recent lawsuits involving Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. Here’s what I found.

Not one of the 20 or so alums I spoke with heard anything about their school being accused in court of racist defamation of a town business. All of them, however, knew what Gibson’s was because they used to shop there when they were students. Some of these people I spoke with were from Class of 1969, some from class of 2007. And lots of years in between

It didn’t matter if the alums I spoke with were in civil rights work (found some of them that were), higher education or in the private business sector. Race didn’t matter either: no one had heard of this case regardless of color or ethnicity. Most all said they would likely pay attention to an issue like this even if it wasn’t their school – recent university campus free speech issues were things they followed – but all were surprised that that school has never kept the alums informed. At all.

“I am sort of surprised the alumni aren’t sharing this around given that this school has always kept civil rights and protests and free speech in the forefront,” said one woman who graduated in the mid-1980s and works for East Coast foundation that helps people with federal safety net entitlement programs

Nearly everyone I spoke with, however, said they would want to learn more about it.

I’ve found this interesting in many respects. This school, at most every alum event this weekend, was reminding the alums they had to pony up money to keep their dear school up at the highest levels of learning for future generations. They also were reminding them of the problems every college and university was having in this country, from perception to funding to purpose. How now is the time to fix things.

The only mention of the case publicly by the school was in the student newspaper The Oberlin Review’s “Commencement Issue 2019: The Year in Review” issue. It was the story that ran on April 26 before the trial started.

Here is how the paper described that shoplifting and the protest. This sanitized version was really the only information for the alums to see while in Oberlin if they picked it up and read:

“The current tension between the College and Gibson’s began in November 2016 when a Black student attempted to make a purchase at Gibson’s Bakery and was accused of shoplifting. The student ran outside the store and Allyn Gibson, the son of owner David Gibson, followed him. Gibson allegedly tackled the student, and the two got into a physical altercation. Two of the student’s friends saw the altercation and began hitting and pulling on Gibson to get him away from the student.

“A customer in the shop saw the altercation and called the Oberlin Police Department out of concern for the students’ safety. When the police arrived, they immediately arrested the three Black students and refused to take statements from some students and witnesses who were present.”

“After the arrest, students organized a 12-hour boycott outside Gibson’s Bakery to protest what they characterized as racial profiling from Allyn Gibson, who is white, as well as the Oberlin Police Department.”

Also in the story was a PR statement from Oberlin Director of Media Relations Scott Wargo:

“The court has notified Oberlin College that … the Gibsons’ claims against Oberlin College and Dean Raimondo will move forward in court on May 1,” Wargo wrote in an email to the Review. “We are disappointed. Every effort to resolve this matter has been to no avail. We believe the evidence is clear. Neither Oberlin College nor Dr. Raimondo defamed a local business [nor] its owners. Colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of students. Employers are not legally responsible for employees who express personal views on personal time. The law is clear on these issues.”

“The College values its long relationship with the town of Oberlin and its businesses,” Wargo said. “We will continue our commitment to the economic uplift of the local businesses that make this community, county, and region a destination of choice. The claims in this case conflict with the obligations of higher education to protect freedom of speech on college campuses. The College respects the rights of all individuals to express their personal opinions and to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.”

Only the most recent Oberlin College president, Carmen Twillie Ambar, hinted at perhaps some present problems that are lingering a bit too long. Appointed to the post last May as the 15th school president, Ambar will be likely testifying at the trial this week.

Today, at the school’s Finney Chapel, she gave the annual “Presidential Address” to students, faculty, and alums who are in town for the commencement for the Oberlin College Class of 2019. She gave the usual plea for money from the alums, praised the great research from the professors, said students were getting better than ever, and even pointed out that Oberlin College had won its first national college sports championship this year in its 185-year history (it was in “Ultimate Frisbee”).

But she did say one sentence that has some relevance to what Oberlin College is facing in Lorain County Common Pleas court about ten miles east of the campus.

“We are charged with protecting Oberlin’s future from its present,” the Oberlin College president told the crowd in the chapel. Ambar didn’t mention the lawsuit or in dollar amounts how much the Gibson’s lawsuit in the present might cost the future.

It seems to me the alumni might benefit from reading our trial coverage. They certainly will read all about it if the college loses and gets hit with the seven- or eight-figure sum the plaintiffs are demanding:

The plaintiffs rested last week and the defense will likely begin calling witnesses on Tuesday. On behalf of Legal Insurrection, have a great Memorial Day.

[Featured Image: Oberlin College commencement seating, photo credit: Daniel McGraw for Legal Insurrection Foundation]

Daniel McGraw is a freelance writer and author in Lakewood, Ohio. Follow him on Twitter @danmcgraw1


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I’d argue that the alumni hearing absolutely nothing about it shows that Oberlin thinks that they’re likely to lose the lawsuit.

If they were actually confident of winning they’d be yelling to the hills about the ‘baseless lawsuit’ trying to compromise the ‘good work’ that they’re doing.

    Tom Servo in reply to Olinser. | May 27, 2019 at 9:34 am

    Oberlin’s entire focus from the start has been to sweep this under the rug – they tried to force Gibson’s to drop it, they tried to get it dismissed, they tried to change venue, they just tried to get a directed verdict – they have tried everything except actually confronting the issue honestly. (which is why I suspect they cannot settle)

    Oberlin’s role model must be Inspector Frank Drebin:

great unknown | May 26, 2019 at 9:11 pm

The penultimate sentence, “The defense rested last week and the plaintiff’s will likely begging calling witnesses on Tuesday” seems to have defense and plaintiffs reversed [and an inappropriate apostrophe – although defense seems to be be on the way to an appropriate catastrophe], and it is the defense that will soon be begging.

TheOldZombie | May 26, 2019 at 9:26 pm

“Most all said they would likely pay attention to an issue like this even if it wasn’t their school – recent university campus free speech issues were things they followed – but all were surprised that that school has never kept the alums informed. At all.”

I have a very hard time believing that these alums follow free speech issues. Oberlin-Gibson was a big deal when it happened. I personally had never heard of either but since I do follow issues regarding free speech it immediately came to my attention. I’ve been following it since and of course here at LI for trial coverage.

I think they will be in for quite a shock when Oberlin, in my humble non-law degree opinion, loses.

    oldgoat36 in reply to TheOldZombie. | May 27, 2019 at 5:08 am

    Seems disingenuous to talk like these matter are forefront on their minds when it is going on all over the place.

    Higher education is reaching a cross roads, of their own making, by being bigoted against conservatives, while pretending to be open and oh, so very liberal and “tolerant”.

    I understand that colleges are mandated to do improvements all the time or they could lose their accreditation. Yet all we see are rising costs of tuition and housing, and housing is always a huge cash cow to them. Government grants, government funding in so many ways go to the schools, yet they always cry poverty. Seems to me either they are not being good stewards of the moneys they receive, or they are fleecing the students and alumni.

    Professors make good money for their profession, yet I see ever more of them barely teaching classes, and instead hand it over to TAs, and they get a lot of time off, winter break coincides with the students, summer break the same, and they get mid-semester breaks as well. If they teach summer courses they get paid more. And they don’t have a heavy schedule of courses they have to teach. (Just look at Warren, hundreds of thousands in pay to teach one or two courses)

    My father was a professor, he ran a department, taught at least 10 -12 courses a semester, ran a doctoral program, and this was at a prestigious university, yet he didn’t get paid like Warren did (scale wise). He had also been pushed aside somewhat due to his conservative leanings even though he never talked politics at work.

    Universities and colleges have become ever more intolerant to any but liberal ideologies. Free speech only for their type of politics seems acceptable. Just like the disgusting leftists in Congress. They don’t really like free speech, they prefer indoctrination even in courses that have nothing to do with politics.

      JusticeDelivered in reply to oldgoat36. | May 27, 2019 at 4:39 pm

      Well said. “Seems to me either they are not being good stewards of the moneys they receive, or they are fleecing the students and alumni.”

      And the issue of intolerance.

      The truth is that colleges are suffering from horribly inefficient bureaucracies, they lack the kind of performance based checks which drive a normal business. In business, ever lower efficiency is eventually brought under control by a poor profit driven purge.

Wow, look at all those white chairs. Somebody should be triggered, but good.

Oh, I saw this coming months ago. Granted, Oberlin acted intelligent for perhaps the first time by staying quiet (to the alums) once they were in active litigation, but there was still that year long period between the crime and the filing. Oberlin communicated nothing that I can recall during that time period to the alumni. Read the alum mags and it is obvious that they will toot their horn over even the most minor accomplishment. This makes me think that they have been aware that they overstepped and bad things could happen and that some likely have been thinking since, oh, February 2017 that they dodged a bullet. My SWAG is that the college was trying to maximize the amount of “edgy” PR that they could get to placate the students w/o going overboard and inviting a lawsuit. I am also somewhat suspicious about the timing of Krislov leaving, and I am looking forward to possible questions about his decision to go.

But, yeah, the cats out of the bag with the alums in town. I was initially peeved when I saw that it was going to take 18 months to bring this to trial, but having it happen right during commencement weekend is just the perfect PR storm.

That whitewash in the Review is going to come back and haunt them big time, especially so in the case of a multi-$M settlement. It alone should be good for at least 10 spots further down in the best colleges poll. I think the college may well see themselves in another trial with the alums, because unlike the students, some of them have grown up since leaving. When you cut to the core, this trial is actually about the college behaving completely opposite to how they present themselves. That is not going to inspire people to donate. I have recently watched the first 3 eps of Chernobyl on HBO and quite frankly, the Soviets are looking more transparent there than Oberlin has been with the Gibsons incident.

    artichoke in reply to MajorWood. | May 27, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    There was also admissions. They had to keep the lid on until after May 1 (and thru as much of “summer melt” season as possible) to admit one more decent class.

      slither in reply to artichoke. | May 28, 2019 at 8:42 am

      And having the trial end during summer when the students are gone prevents another riot when (and if) the verdict goes against Oberlin.

In a period of 35-40 years Oberlin has fallen from an elite liberal arts college nearly at the level of Amherst, Williams or Swarthmore to an also-ran affixed in rankings aside Kenyon and Macalaster. The alum ought to have long ago fixed the rot but instead expended resources explaining why all rankings systems are flawed. Flawed? This isn’t some college flirting with top ten status but unable to break through. This is a college that has seen its glory days fade into the past as it attracts students more interested in flavor of the month social action than rigorous academics. Compare Oberlin to an elite liberal arts college able to combine a message of “public service” as well as academic rigor such as Swarthmore. Oberlin is a failing institution with an endowment too puny to repair the faults in its academic foundations. Without a strong hand able to assert an adult role over the students and faculty and an aggressive effort to increase the school’s endowment Oberlin will continue its status of a once-great liberal arts college struggling in the present to remain in the top 40 of such schools.

If the main stream media doesn’t cover it and they don’t come to this website, how would they know? The school doesn’t want donors to know their contributions may go to a settlement, because the school victimized a small business. I’m curious as to why the school didn’t quietly settle and move on? The cost of litigation is probably higher than they would have paid in a settlement.

    artichoke in reply to Jackie. | May 27, 2019 at 7:30 pm

    I think they didn’t settle because, for some reason, the left has an utterly seething hatred of conservatives.

    I cannot understand it at all, and if I did I would probably feel somewhat contaminated by the thought of whatever it is, but the hatred is intense. Don’t forget how they feel, make allowances and adjustments.

      Jackie in reply to artichoke. | May 30, 2019 at 6:57 pm

      I don’t know if Gibson’s is conservative. I think it is just a small business struggling to survive.

“The current tension between the College and Gibson’s began in November 2016 when a Black student attempted to make a purchase at Gibson’s Bakery and was accused of shoplifting.” Wasn’t it three students, and didn’t they plead guilty to shoplifting? Since when is shoplifting “attempting to purchase”?

    Observer in reply to elliesmom. | May 27, 2019 at 10:08 am

    It was 3 black students, and they were shoplifting bottles of wine. Allyn Gibson tried to stop them from shoplifting, and they all physically attacked him. The cop who was the first responder testified that when he arrived on the scene, they had Gibson down on the ground, and they were all punching and kicking him.

    The students not only admitted to the shoplifting, they also admitted that they had not been racially profiled in the store.

    Oberlin lied about everything. To everybody.

      Jackie in reply to Observer. | May 27, 2019 at 10:18 am

      I might be wrong, but I believe they showed phony ID in an effort to buy the wine and when it was rejected they attempted to shoplift it. I believe Gibsons’ allowed the assault charge to be dropped in exchange for the student’s public statement. At the time Gibsons’ believed that statement would solve everything.

        Arminius in reply to Jackie. | May 27, 2019 at 2:10 pm

        You, might be wrong. It wasn’t until my family went into business or ourselves that I realized just how devastating stealing was to our livelihood.

        You maybe think it is a minor crime when should a minor crime not add up to felony.

          Jackie in reply to Arminius. | May 27, 2019 at 6:39 pm

          You are misunderstanding me. I am 100% behind Gibsons’. I worked in a small store as a kid. I know how difficult it is to make a living and how shoplifting can destroy a business. These kids tried using a phony ID to buy liquor. When Gibsons’ wouldn’t sell it to them, they stole it. Gibsons’ suffered punishment from the school for being victimized by their students.

          Arminius in reply to Arminius. | May 27, 2019 at 7:34 pm

          Jackie, have a meaningful Memorial day.

    JusticeDelivered in reply to elliesmom. | May 27, 2019 at 4:43 pm

    One of the three students tried to purchase wine with a fake ID, and when that failed all three tried to steal the wine.

    PostLiberal in reply to elliesmom. | May 27, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Wasn’t it three students, and didn’t they plead guilty to shoplifting? Since when is shoplifting “attempting to purchase”?

    Which is why College Insurrection called it a “sanitized version.” More like the Newspeak Version, courtesy of The Oberlin Review.

    On the other hand, if The Oberlin Review had instead written “attempting to shoplift,” it might have had a point. If you are caught in the act of shoplifting, your attempt to shoplift was not successful.

    slither in reply to elliesmom. | May 27, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    According to The Chronicle what happened was that Aladin hid two bottles of wine under his jacket while trying to purchase a third (with a fake id).

I now know why the Oberlin Review refused to print my comment on that article.

In my comment I noted that it was odd that Oberlin College had a tradition of activism but had allegedly tried to set up a two-tiered justice system whereby students were immune to the laws that everyone else had to follow. I also noted that it was disappointing that the article didn’t mention the fact that Raimondo talked about “unleashing the students” as if the students were mindless vicious animals, and observed that Oberlin students might well start demanding that their own administration treat them with more respect.

Clearly, Oberlin know that the alumni would see the article and didn’t want such things to be known.

    MajorWood in reply to slither. | May 27, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    There are two types of people. Those who read 1984 and saw it as a warning, and those who read 1984 and saw it as a game plan.

    Until Oberlin recognizes that they are the source of all of their current problems, nothing will change. A defeat in the court of law will sadly only reaffirm their belief that *they* are the victims here, and another double-down will be needed to fix it. I see no imminent “moment of clarity” in their future.

Nice handle, BTW, Warspite, My call sign was Holy. Because my last name rhymes with Toledo. Actually, when my squadron got my orders it was misspelled Toledo.

I had to correct the paperwork mostly to straighten out the pay. They were like, “It still works.”

So I got to march around the Carl Vinson with the name patch Holy on my flight jacket. And every time we left Thailand I got to hear confession. And I’m like, “Dude, I’m not your (blancking) chaplain.” They refused to believe it.

So if you want to hear some weirdness out of Bangkok, I’m your guy.

From the enlisted.

“The claims in this case conflict with the obligations of higher education to protect freedom of speech on college campuses.”

So Oberlin has to protect the ability of its students to behave the way they have been behaving? If a school can be a thug …

The alums should learn of Raimondo’s “unleash the students” comment. It would put a lot in perspective about today’s Oberlin.

Mr. McGraw is about the only reporter who is following this trial at all. His articles are appearing in s few legal blogs, a few conservative blogs and the Chronicle-Telegraph in Elysia Ohio has been covering the trial and that is about it. The MSM is studiously ignoring this case. Really, as far as the rest of the country and world knows, this trial does not even exist.

“…now is the time to fix things.”

I suggest that we nuke Big Academy, from orbit.

It’s the only way to be sure.

The guy who broke the news about my call sign was LT. Cox. Call sign, wait for it. You already guessed. Sucker.

So he’s telling me that my call sign is Holy because my last name rhymes with Toledo.

And I’ m looking at him thinking, “You know, it could be worse.”

I got to hear some epic confessions.