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Monday, November 13, 2017
Oberlin College may face a very costly reckoning for its cries of ‘racism’
I am cheered by a story from Friday that seems to have received little notice.
Rachel Frommer reports for the Free
Oberlin College and its vice
president have been accused of libel and slander by a local bakery, the owners
of which allege in a suit that administrators supported students in an
unfounded campaign to paint the establishment's owners as racist.
The suit against the college and
Meredith Raimondo, who is also dean of students, was filed on Nov. 7 in Lorain
County Common Pleas Court on behalf of Gibson Bros. Inc., and owners David and
Allyn Gibson, the Morning Journal reported.
The account presented in that local
news report highlights allgations that could be extremely damaging to Oberlin:
Jonathan Aladin, 20, Cecelia
Whettston, 19, and Endia Lawrence, 20, pleaded guilty in August to charges of
attempted theft and aggravated trespassing. Aladin also pleaded guilty to
underage purchase of alcohol.
Lorain County Common Pleas Judge
James L. Miraldi placed the trio on one year of community control and ordered
them to pay restitution to the store.
As part of the plea deal, they were
required to read statements explicitly stating the incident was not racially motivated.
The suit alleges, despite the Oberlin Police Department releasing
the incident report refuting the racial narrative, the college persisted in
assisting students in protesting the store to bolster an attempt to brand the
college as having a ”legacy of being a strong advocate for and a strong
supporter of African American students and racial minorities.”
The allegations in that last
paragraph, if they stands up in court, could justify punitive damages being
awarded, since Oberlin knew, or should have known, that the racial allegations
were false, and yet persisted in aiding students in their attempt to
economically harm the bakery.
The allegation that Oberlin officials
knew or should have known that racism was not a factor in the arrests, and yet
allowed and facilitated students in deliberately damaging the business future
of the bakery, should open the door to punitive damages. The purpose of
punitive damages is deter future misbehavior. Therefore, the sum awarded as
punitive damages needs to be big enough to matter to the defendant.
Oberlin College enjoys an endowment
of over $800 million, or almost
$300,000 per student, which will sound mighty impressive to a jury in Lorain County, Ohio,
population 300,000, 85% white, and as hard hit by deindustrialization as
anyplace one could find. Oberlin pegs the cost of attending it at just
under $68,000 per year. That compares to the per capita income in Lorain County
of $25,000 per year. Oberlin's per capita endowment is 14 times the
average income of the county in which it lives. I am not sure that the
social justice warrior impulses of the coddled students at Oberlin will pull on
the heartstrings of jurors who formerly worked at one of the impressive list of
closed factories in the county.
Oberlin can afford the best lawyers
in the country. What the plaintiff needs is a silver tongued member of the tort
bar, able to appeal to jurors in the name of justice, and personally after a
third of the possible punitive damages award here.
I can very easily imagine a punitive
damages award sufficiently large as to “get the attention” of Oberlin’s
management. Generally speaking, poorer communities surrounding wealthy colleges
are hotbeds of resentment against the privilege and arrogance on campus toward
“townies.” Typically, plaintiffs’ lawyers argue that an arrogant large
institution, if it is to change its ways, needs to be held liable for damages
affecting its net worth measurably -- by whole digit percentages of its wealth
or income. One percent of Oberlin’s endowment would be eight million dollars,
for instance. If jurors want Oberlin to stop calling innocent people racists,
then a punitive damages award in the millions could well be in prospect.
Ed. I attended Kenyon College, another small, liberal arts school in Ohio. Anyone who believes liberalism is new to private schools, think again. As a result of the Kent State shootings, all of our finals were cancelled as various student speakers took to open spots on the campus in order to rail against authority, Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War and anything which was not "relevant" to the problems of the day. Relevance was very important 48 years ago although it was not very clearly defined.