The ruling against ultra-leftist Oberlin College of $11.2 million in compensation to grocers David Gibson and family also carries a $33-million punitive damage, which is raising some controversy.
Commentary includes assertions that the all-white jury was overly harsh and claims that the case warns of academia entering darker phases of activism harming academia, schools and the students themselves.
The case stems from a November 2016 incident that resulted in criminal cases against three Oberlin students who eventually pleaded guilty to charges of robbery and assault.
Jonathan Aladin, 19 at the time, tried to steal from Gibson’s store, and he strong-armed a family-member employee before fleeing the scene.
The employee gave chase outside and across the street where two more Oberlin students, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone, both then 19, helped beat up the employee.
Oberlin College students, encouraged and at points led by staff and faculty members, targeted the grocers for ruin, organizing protests and a boycott to sever trade ties with the school and between Gibson’s and others doing business with the school or that the school could influence.
Legal Scholler and professor Jonathan Turley opined, “For many who lament the shift from academics to activism across college campuses in the United States, Oberlin College in Ohio is the equivalent of the ‘China syndrome.’”
A chain reaction may be underway that can not be stopped or controlled, he warned. In the face of the $44-million total ruling, Oberlin is obstinate and unrepentant.
According to Turley, school protesters ranted about racism because the grocer family is white and the criminally convicted attackers are black. The college, from its leaders down, understood investigators saw no racial motive involved, but they wanted white blood anyway.
In the face of repeated stealing at the store, Oberlin wanted an outrageous bye given to all first-time shoplifters, like a warning, instead of police always being called.
The grocer family noted that would ruin them, if word on the 3,000-student campus was, grab what you want “the first time.” Full-on looting comes to mind.
“When some contacted Oberlin to object that the students admitted guilt, special assistant to the president . . . Tita Reed wrote that it did not change a ‘damn thing’ for her,” Turley said.
Lead store owner David Gibson approached Oberlin College heads about the boycott – college president Marvin Krislov and staff offered little sympathy, according to Turley.
“Gibson said the officials demanded that the bakery not call police when students shoplifted for the first time,” Turley noted. “He objected that his bakery loses a large amount of money to shoplifting and that the college was demanding the equivalent of a first-time shoplifter pass.”
Evan Gerstmann, a professor and commentator on constitutional and educational issues, said though only a handful of blacks were a part of the jury pool for the rural Ohio county, the all-white jury is still problematic.
“First and foremost, this case was about race,” Gerstmann said. “The Gibson family is white and the students at the center of the dispute are African American, as were many of the students at the protests against Gibson’s. And there was not one African American on the jury.”
the costs mount with no reflection from administratorsProfessor Jonathan Turley
Gerstmann called the criminal robbery/assault case “petty,” adding there was a context of long-standing tensions between the white family and black students.
“Something can be both racist and not racist at the same time depending on one’s perspective,” Gerstmann said.
As a matter of conclusion, Gerstmann noted that Oberlin’s faculty, staff and students did pursue racism allegations and loud protestations against the Gibson family “without evidence.”
“Gibson’s deserved a lot of the sympathy that it got,” he said. “But what about the other narrative, that of the African American students who saw the protests as an expression of the racial discomfort they felt, correctly or incorrectly, when they entered the bakery?”
To Turley, such concerns pale by comparison to the rising academic toxicity that the Oberlin case is a telling mile-marker for.
“Meanwhile, the costs mount with no reflection from administrators,” he said. “Even with $44 million in total damages, [no faculty or staff changes occurred from it, and] . . . the college remains unapologetic.”