Former Oberlin College professor Abraham Socher offers fresh insight into the case, including the headline quote from his former colleague.
Despite over 100 posts at Legal Insurrection on the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College conflict and lawsuit, I just read a fresh perspective on what happened.
The perspective is that of Abraham Socher, currently Editor of the Jewish Review of Books.
Pertinent to this discussion, Socher is a former Oberlin College Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Jewish Studies, where he taught for 18 years. In March 2016, when still at the college, Socher wrote in the student-run Oberlin Review about Joy Karega, whose anti-Semitic conspiracy rants on Facebook were another in an long line of Oberlin College scandals, Karega-Mason’s Facebook Posts Anti-Semitic.
I went back to Oberlin on a Friday in June for the first time in a year or so. Even retired professors like me have to return books to the library (eventually). Driving off the Ohio-10 freeway, down East Lorain Street, past the organic George Jones Farm—named for a beloved botany professor, not the great country-and-western singer—I saw the first of several yard signs supporting Gibson’s Bakery in its lawsuit against Oberlin College and its dean of students, Meredith Raimondo, who is also vice president of the college. The previous day, a Lorain County jury had awarded Gibson’s an astounding $33 million in punitive damages in addition to the $11.2 million it had already assigned to the family business for compensatory damages.
Socher gave us a nice shout out:
The Chronicle Telegram has followed the Gibson’s case from the outset, with detailed reporting from reporters Scott Mahoney, Dave O’Brien, and Jodi Weinberger. Cornell Law School professor William Jacobson has also discussed it from the beginning on his Legal Insurrection blog, along with local freelance reporter Daniel McGraw, who covered every day of the trial in great detail for Legal Insurrection. While following the case as a former Oberlin professor was depressing, reading all of these excellent, unpretentious journalists as they chronicled the conduct of local police officers, attorneys, and judges calmly ascertaining facts and administering justice was a bit restorative.
But this detail jumped out at me as a key to understanding the dynamic (emphasis added):
Oberlin students were rarely as disciplined as the intimidating academic thoroughbreds I had briefly taught at Stanford, but they were often more interesting. They had come to Oberlin, literally, out of curiosity.
So to reframe the question: How does an institution take kids like that, and, by precept and example, teach them to rush to judgment, ignore evidence, disdain the legal system, and demonize neighbors who are different? On that last point—that of difference, as we say in the academy—Dean Raimondo went to Brown and Emory, President Krislov had been a Rhodes scholar, Jonathan Aladin had come to Oberlin from Phillips Andover.
Allyn Gibson? He’s a fifth-generation townie.
This wasn’t just a town-gown conflict, or even a racial conflict, it was a class conflict as much as anything.
Another description by Socher also jumped out at me, it confirms what I’ve seen suggested in court papers and also heard from others, that Gibson’s Bakery is struggling to survive (emphasis added):
I’ve also been coming to Gibson’s for years. When I interviewed for a job here two decades ago, one of my faculty hosts, who, like many professors, was himself an Oberlin graduate, took me by the store, rhapsodized about those whole-wheat donuts, and bought me one of the Gibson’s postcards they still have up by the cash register. It’s an undated picture of the storefront in the twilight after a light snow and looks as if it could have been taken anytime since the 1930s (in fact, the store was founded in 1885 and has been at its current location since 1905). Allyn W. Gibson, who must have been about 70 at the time, rung up the sale. Walking around the store now, I was struck by how sparsely the shelves were stocked, and wondered if it was a result of the student boycott. I bought three postcards, a Snapple, and a copy of the paper.
Read the whole thing. It offers a fresh perspective on what happened, including this perspective on decades of Oberlin College public relations disasters centered on protest culture (emphasis added):
How, after such public debacles costing millions of dollars in lost students, donors, and prestige, could Oberlin yet again condescend to its students, betray its finest traditions, and make itself a national laughingstock? Or as another Oberlin professor put it to me in a pithy email after the Gibson’s v. Oberlin verdict, “how idiotic can the college be always?”
This may be a class conflict, and a racial conflict, and everything else, but it also seems to be a uniquely Oberlin College conflict:
In the aftermath of the jury’s verdict, Krislov’s successor as president, Carmen Ambar, along with college proxies and sympathetic journalists, have implied that—guilty pleas, allocutions, and an exhaustive six-week civil trial notwithstanding—there really was, after all, something to the claim that Gibson’s had racially profiled Aladin and others. In interviews, Ambar has hit on a bit of bad philosophy to obfuscate this point. “You can have two different lived experiences, and both those things can be true,” she told the Wall Street Journal editorial board. One is tempted to say that the facile relativism of this—there is a Gibson truth and an Aladin truth; a townie truth and a college truth—reveals the sophistry behind Oberlin’s self-destructive approach, but actually it’s worse than that, if not philosophically at least morally. Nothing in the actions of Oberlin College or those of its dean and vice president suggests an understanding or empathy with the Gibson family’s experience.
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