Oberlin ex-Pres. "Oberlin needs an intervention. STOP. Pay up, apologize to the Gibsons, reflect.."

Wow. Former Oberlin President Frederick Starr (1983-94) lays into the current Oberlin administration’s mad policy of denying the obvious and fighting the judgment. Here’s his op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today - “Oberlin College’s Legacy and the Need to Have Enemies”: https://www.wsj.com/articles/oberlin-colleges-legacy-and-the-need-to-have-enemies-11562360792

Key quotes:

"Oberlin College should be ashamed of its conduct, but it’s not. It’s emboldened, if anything, as witnessed by the post-verdict crisis management public relations campaign to spin Oberlin College as having been held liable for student speech. It’s just not true.

“Oberlin College needs an intervention. Someone who truly cares about the college needs to tell the administration and its defenders to stop. …”

“What can Oberlin do to reclaim its better self? That’s ultimately a question for the college’s trustees, faculty, alumni and students. But there is a common-sense answer that would probably seem obvious to most anyone in Lorain County or any of a thousand smaller communities around the country: Pay the court’s judgment, don’t fight it; apologize to the Gibson family and to the community and take steps to show you mean it; and then calmly think through all that has happened and do whatever is necessary to reaffirm the institution’s identity as a college, not a cause.”

It will be interesting to see if the Oberlin administration issues a response to the op-ed.


Good to see a diversity of insider opinion. Thanks for posting.

Looks like former President Starr’s op-ed is behind the Wall St Journal’s paywall. Here’s another pointed observation from Pres. Starr:

"The text on the monument [to Oberlin’s founder]—commissioned in the 1990s, when I was the college’s president—celebrates Oberlin’s ‘simple message—that people with diverse perspectives can live in friendship with one another,’ which ‘lies at the heart of the aspirations of this college.’

"Even when the monument was erected, it would have been hard to find evidence on campus that J.F. Oberlin’s values were thriving there. During my tenure as president (1983-94), I recall several incidents—usually involving phony hate crimes—that now seem precursors to the baseless attack on Gibson’s Food Mart and Bakery, which led to a $44 million jury award (which a judge reduced to $25 million) against the college. In my day there were administrators and faculty members who worked to get to the bottom of each case. Sometimes this even led to some reflection and learning.

"The monument represents values sharply at odds with those the college exhibited in the recent fracas. Instead of engaging with, and learning from, the “other,” it condoned and abetted students who fixate on purported evils. The institution itself seems to have embraced the extremist doctrine that every ‘evil’ thus identified must be destroyed so that society can enter an age of bliss. … "

“Thus there exist two radically different Oberlins: the gloomy sectarian training ground inspired by [founder Charles Grandison] Finney and the one that affirms modern learning, thought, music and art.”

Thanks for starting this thread, @thibault (and for quoting from the piece b/c I can’t get past the WSJ paywall). I think I had missed that the judge had reduced the damages to $25 million. I’m going to google that now.

I just pulled up an article from late June and this is appalling – referring to the current president’s conference call with alumni:
“But Ambar said on the conference call there were “very complicated and nuanced issues” involving the protests, and legal principals surrounding the lawsuit “were not appropriately applied.””



The attorney fee hearing scheduled for tomorrow and the motions related thereto bode poorly for Oberlin College in the immediate.

More importantly, how is OC going to adapt to a rapidly evolving political and educational environment.

"Ambar said a lesson for students is that protest should not always be their first option during a disagreement.

“Just because it’s permissible speech doesn’t mean it isn’t hurtful,” she said. “We can’t be a place that celebrates difference, but only the differences we agree with.”"

Wow. Oberlin President, Ambar still doesn’t get it: Libel and slander are not “permissible speech”. Is she really this clueless? smh.

Re #7 shuttle bus:

One gets the impression that the current president & administration are actively trying to put the university in an even deeper hole.

It is unfathomable that a Columbia-educated lawyer cannot recognize, or will not admit, that libel and slander are not “permissible speech.”

In an interview with iirc CBS News, she also characterized Oberlin employees’ and students’ defamatory speech as “disagreements” and the Gibsons as “people with whom you happen to disagree.”

Don’t know how many of you are aware of it, but, there’s a similar case pending in Connecticut against Wesleyan. Libel, defamation, student direct actions. There’s even a similar issue of student use of a university copying machine:

Tip, iceberg.
Or maybe: tip as in tipping point?

From an obviously partisan voice (on multiple levels) but with enough distance from ground zero to provide a perspective otherwise unavailable domestically within the context of the subject of this thread:


That’s consistent with former Oberlin president Fred Starr’s critique, to wit: Oberlin admins view their institution as a “cause” instead of a place where ideas are investigated and knowledge imparted.

The result is these warriors seek to suppress real and necessary debate at the same time that they encourage and enable false charges of hate crimes.

Note Oberlin president Fred Starr’s telling comments in his WSJ editorial about multiple “phony hate crimes” perpetrated by students during his tenure. Much more attention needs to be paid to these hoaxes at colleges across the US, and to the role of faculty & admins in creating a climate where such hoaxes flourish and go unpunished.

The Neil McLaughlin article loses sight of the fact that none of these elite, private colleges and univesities would be nearly as left of center as they presently are without the addition of low-income students in greater numbers since the 1980s. I’m old enough to remember when the Harvards and Yales of the country were fairly apathetic places and the most hurtful epithet you could apply to any of them was, “gentlemens college.” The underlying argument McLaughlin seems to be making is that the Ivies and NESCACs would be better off paying more attention to its paying customer’s true economic interests - not less. At the very least, it’s a mixed message.

Agree that the Neil McLaughlin article is confused and confusing. His argument seems to be that the root cause of campus-originated libel, slander, hate crime hoaxes and other forms of anti-intellectual / kulturkampf bad behavior is the private higher ed system: “Educators around the world should not see the private system as the gold standard but as a deeply flawed incubator of cultural wars. Social democratic and public alternatives must be protected and fashioned in order to promote quality scholarship and provide broad access to higher education.”

The evidence of culture-warrior bad behavior doesn’t support this conclusion.

There is at least as much malicious nonsense being spread at public universities and colleges as at elite private ones. The evidence of hate crime hoaxes shows no correlation between type of higher ed institution and frequency of incidence.

For example, here’s a partial list of colleges and universities where known hate crime hoaxes have taken place since 2011 - they’re literally and figuratively all over the map. They range from tippy-top elite privates (Chicago, Williams), public Ivies (U-Mich, UVA Law) and a service academy (USAFA) to public flagships to regionally-focused private universities to small LACs to directional state universities. They’re drawn from every region in the nation:

Grand Valley State
Vassar College
U. Wyoming
U. Chicago
Central Connecticut State
U. Virginia (Law School)
Montclair State
Kansas State
US Air Force Academy
Eastern Michigan U.
Oberlin College (at least two incidents)
U. Maryland
U. Southern California
Clemson U.
Elon U.
U. Iowa
Drake U.
Goucher College
Bowling Green State U.
U. San Diego
U. Michigan - Ann Arbor
St. Olaf College
U. Delaware
Williams College
San Diego State
UNC Charlotte
Baruch College

This is not a problem that is unique to any one type of higher ed institution. We’re dealing with a massive cultural problem that goes beyond the university campus.


OC digs deeper.

One might have thought that the college would deviate from its previous pattern of making ridiculously undervalued counter claims for easily quantifiable baseline values as this behavior hasn’t served their interests well at trial or in the public eye.

And one could have hoped that their punishment and humiliation would be impactful, short lived and restorative in a cathartic manner.

Time for an intervention.

Mr. Canavan, care to address the future?

Yikes - amateur hour now for OC. Note the desperate, hail-mary character of their latest gambit to save a few bucks by nitpicking itemized legal bills.

The bad PR generated by dragging this out and refusing to apologize and clean house will cost OC many many times whatever sum they can claw back by disputing lawyers’ expenses and prolonging the agony in this manner:

"Attorneys for Oberlin College called on expert and attorney Eric Zagrans, who testified Wednesday that he disagreed with Lansdowne’s representation of the case as ‘exceptional.’ …

“Zagrans testified he was only able to go through the most recent six months of bills submitted by Gibsons’ attorneys because he received the documents just after 6 p.m. Monday. He testified he had not slept in the past 24 hours going through the documents on behalf of Oberlin College’s defense team. …”

Here’s a thought: how many additional high-achieving, high-income, full-pay applicants could Oberlin attract if they were to follow ex-President Fred Starr’s advice and apologize to the Gibsons, lay out a plan for fixing the administrative and cultural rot, and signal to the nation and the world that Oberlin is a well-run institution whose reputation is on the rebound?


Last paragraph - exactly.

It’s definitely time to move forward. OC doesn’t have to abandon its heritage but it does have to embrace reality and the rule of law.

It’s pretty easy to compose the simple message that a new OC president would send - to students, employees, alums and the world:

"Oberlin College is a good neighbor. Today we state clearly that we do not bear false witness against our neighbors.

"Oberlin recognizes that slander and libel are not permissible speech.

“As evidence of our sincere desire to amend the wrong that our employees have done, we have terminated the employment of those Oberlin staff who defamed the Gibsons, and we express our sincere apology for the harm that these false statements caused the Gibson family. We also announce today that over the next 3 months, our Political Science faculty will create instructional materials and will be holding seminars in which every Oberlin student and employee will be throughly coached in the basic distinction between speech that is protected by the First Amendment and defamatory speech, which is not protected. …”

^ If Oberlin would have come out with those statements before trial, it may have saved itself millions of dollars in damages and gone a long way to repairing its tarnished reputation. Unfortunately, Oberlin continues to dig itself into a deeper hole.