A Multi-Million Dollar Learning Opportunity

Marina Ziemnick

CounterCurrent: Week of 4/24

Buckle up, folks—it’s time for another CounterCurrent legal drama, complete with lies, betrayal, and a multi-million dollar payout. But don’t worry, this story has a happy ending. (What’s that? Two weeks of good news in a row? Yes, I’m as shocked as you are.)

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Our story begins in November 2016, the day after the presidential election, just across the street from Oberlin College at Gibson’s Bakery. After an Oberlin student was caught using a fake ID and shoplifting, a confrontation between him and a Bakery employee led to a chase, which culminated in three Oberlin students beating the employee on the ground. The three students were arrested and eventually pled guilty to charges of assault (and robbery for the shoplifting student). 

The next day, Oberlin students launched a vitriolic campaign against the Bakery and the Gibson family, accusing both of racism. Oberlin administrators threw their weight behind the students by supporting and even participating in their campaign against the Bakery. Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo allegedly photocopied some of the protestors’ fliers on Oberlin machines—and she threatened to “unleash the students” on a professor who later dared to suggest that the university should apologize to the Gibson family for damaging its livelihood. 

After attempting to reason with the Oberlin administration to no avail, Gibson’s Bakery eventually turned to their only remaining line of defense: the Ohio justice system. The Gibson family sued both Oberlin and Raimondo for libel, defamation, and illegal interference with their business. After an extended trial, a jury decided in favor of the Gibson family and awarded them over $11 million in compensatory damages and $33 million in punitive damages (the final judgment was later reduced to $31.2 million due to statutory caps on punitive damages). Although Oberlin appealed the decision, it was upheld last month by an Ohio Court of Appeals.

In this week’s featured article, attorney and Minding the Campus columnist Louis K. Bonham writes about the biggest takeaways from the case. “The eight-figure disaster,” he says, “should serve as a timely object lesson to universities and administrators: surrendering to wokeism and cancel culture (in Oberlin’s case, embracing and participating in it) can have very real, very expensive repercussions.”

Bonham describes three main lessons that the Oberlin case offers “for those willing to learn.” The first is that “while the doctrines of CRT and wokeism may well be the preferred narrative of the faculty lounge and certain organizations, application of such doctrines often conflicts with well-settled law.” The mantra will be familiar to regular readers of Minding the Campus: we’ve published numerous stories of professors who have challenged the illegal actions of DEI-obsessed administrators and won. In this case, the jury saw through Oberlin’s attempt to claim First Amendment protection for the lies that it propagated—as it turns out, libel is libel, even when the defamatory statements align with the dominant progressive narrative.

The second lesson, according to Bonham, is that one’s “position as a ‘woke’ administrator isn’t impregnable armor.” Dean Raimondo learned the hard way that college administrators can face personal liability for breaking the law. Although Raimondo was a private employee, administrators at public colleges who disregard the law will not be safe either, as qualified immunity offers no defense against violations of clearly established law. In those cases, however, taxpayers will be left to foot the bill both for the legal fees and the cost of any judgment against the university. (All the more reason to hold public administrators accountable for their misbehavior and remove the temptation to wrongdoing that qualified immunity offers.) 

The third and final lesson is that “the ‘true believers’ of wokeism appear to lack filters when communicating with other members of their coven.” Raimondo’s threat to “unleash the students” was just one of many gems from the internal communications at Oberlin that were revealed during discovery. To see the other incriminatory statements and to learn the rest of the story, I highly recommend reading Bonham’s article, as well as the Legal Insurrection archives about the case. I promise it will be worth your time. 

Until next week. 

P. S. Last month, NAS board member and Connecticut affiliate head Jay Bergman wrote an article about Central Connecticut State University’s new policy designating faculty, administrators, and other college employees as “mandated reporters.” The policy requires them to report any information about suspected “gender-based discrimination” to the university’s Office of Equity and Inclusion. In the article, Jay outlines the problems with the new policy and explains the chilling effect that it will have on the free exchange of ideas. Overall, he argues that the policy is reminiscent of Soviet-era surveillance requirements (and as a historian of the Soviet Union, he would know). 

The article was originally published in FrontPage Magazine, but it has been republished in four Connecticut newspapers: the Republican-American in Waterbury, The Day in New London, the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, and online in the Connecticut Mirror. You can also read it here on Minding the Campus.

CounterCurrent is the National Association of Scholars’ weekly newsletter, written by Communications Associate Marina Ziemnick. To subscribe, update your email preferences here.

Image: Gibson's Bakery, Facebook

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