It was a sad day for higher education yesterday as a jury found Oberlin guilty of racism.
This case is likely to be a precursor for more schools to be held accountable for fostering hate filled environments. This case’s magnitude, if it continues on other campuses as plaintiffs plan, will have profound strategic, financial and management implications across higher education.
The financial viability of Oberlin in the short to medium term is now a question for the school’s financial counter parties. This judgement will ripple through Oberlin’s financial ecosystem such that the school will have challenges obtaining financing to fund operations and attracting new students, especially from full pay families, in the short term
The plaintiff was awarded 1.5% of Oberlin’s endowment. The punitive damages phase of trial is next. Oberlin is expected to lose another 3.0% of its endowment. The loss of so much of its endowment could not come at a worse time for Oberlin. Last year the school made drastic cuts and still incurred an annual operating deficit due to massive layers of bureaucracy and financial mismanagement.
Oberlin must now incur new debt whose use of proceeds will be to pay off a judgment for being a racist institution. This is going to be a very difficult financing to clear the market, especially when the school is already bleeding red ink in the annual budget.
The sad news makes me appreciate the leadership of Zimmer, Boyer and our trustees; they exemplify “adult supervision” in a higher education world that seems lost in so many ways. I am thankful for their stewardship.