In its nearly 200 years of existence, Oberlin College has experienced civil war, economic depression, and epidemics. But until this year, he had never faced Kalinda Watson. Student editors at the Oberlin Review protested the addition of Watson to the college ranks as an existential threat.
No, Watson is not a conservative or a Republican — groups that have been frowned upon on campus for years. Oberlin is ranked among the top three liberal colleges in the country, and finding a conservative professor is like finding a licensed, experienced witch.
No, Watson is far, far worse. She is a risk management professional.
The panic over the arrival of a risk management professional at this small college may be working to… wait for it… reduce the risk of litigation at the college. Oberlin, it seems, attracts the same charges as liberals.
The students fear she will create “danger aversion” that could dampen future protests.
Indeed, some of us have written about Oberlin over the years as a study of why higher education is declining in America. The college has already let the public know that it has cost the school dearly in previous controversies.
The most obvious example is the scandalous history of the college’s campaign against Gibson’s, a small family store and bakery that has been part of this small community since 1885. Although this did not last long, the store became the focus of a college-led vandalism campaign. In the year After authorities arrested three African American students in 2016 for shoplifting.
The arrest immediately sparked a campaign calling the store racist. Undeterred, police found clear evidence of shoplifting, and over a five-year period, 40 adults were arrested for shoplifting at Gibson’s Bakery, and only 6 were African American.
However, local prosecutors succumbed to pressure and cut the plea deal to reduce the charge to attempted robbery. But a local judge refused to accept the deal, saying the petition was the result of a series of punitive protests and “permanent economic sanctions.” Ultimately, all three students pleaded guilty.
Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo reportedly joined the massive protest and handed out flyers calling the bakery a racist business. While some admitted the students were guilty, Taita Reed, special assistant to the president for community and government relations (who is said to have participated in the protest), wrote that the incident did not change, calling it “a curse.”
A jury awarded Gibson $44 million in compensatory and punitive damages in June 2019. A judge later reduced the award to $25 million. But the college continued to drag out the appeal in what looked like a vendetta argument against a shop that refused to surrender just because it was clean.
So that brings us back to the student panic of hiring a campus risk manager. Instead of looking at his own behavior and looking at the lack of responsibility and leadership by Oberlin College President Carmen Twilley Ambar and the Board of Trustees, he hired someone to study the obvious way the college was burning through so much money. It’s a little more than a performance art. It’s amazing how many students could have been given a free ride to college with the amount of money Oberlin paid for lawsuits and insurance.
For the student organizers, they don’t even want to “risk” because “it seems unlikely that a college would live in fear of litigation.” . . It will bode well for activist efforts in the coming years.
Oberlin is not alone in its lack of courage to hold students accountable. Recently, many people were shocked when students blocked a federal appeals judge from speaking at Stanford Law School. Associate Dean Tirien Steinbach joined conservative appellate judge Stuart Duncan in condemning him for causing harm by sharing his opinion. While Stanford Law School Dean Jenny Martinez condemned the cancellation of the speech as a denial of free speech, she refused to hold the students accountable.
At Northwestern University, students took over a class and forced it to end because the professor invited an immigration officer to talk to the students. Those students gave public interviews about their success, but the university could not punish them.
In other cases, professors actively participated in canceling speakers and even committing acts of violence. Mireille Miller-Young, an associate professor of women’s studies at the University of California – Santa Barbara, has been convicted of assaulting pro-life activists on campus. She was not fired. Instead, she was supported by faculty and respected as a role model at other schools.
Most recently, René Overdyke, a sociology professor at the State University of New York at Albany, was allegedly arrested for hacking life profiles. Although the school passed out flyers reminding students that they could not stop others from speaking, Overdyke allegedly did just that. of Videotaped arrest Students say, “She a [expletive] Professor!”
And that’s the point. A professor resists arrest after violating school policy. The question is, will Albany be punished for obstructing free speech, or will the Lion punish her?
The anger of Oberlin students reflects concern that the college will not support campaigns that harm other people, including innocent individuals like the owners of Gibson’s Bakery.
Oberlin administrators have made such campaigns part of their student identity. After all, this is a college where students are so hair-triggered that they even object to sushi in the cafeteria as “cultural appropriation.” Litigation expenses are now treated as entitlements to entertainment budgets.
They can rest for sure. The fact that the college had to bring in a “disaster expert” clearly shows that it will do little to change the culture or prevent future atrocities. If President Ambar and the board were serious, they would not need an expert. Even after being awarded a huge prize by the judges, Ambar refused to apologise.
“Student activity at Oberlin is culturally critical,” the students wrote in their editorial. Without it, what do we stand for? Responsible activism aside, there are always other values like higher education and due process that appeal to them — if nothing else, at least something new at Oberlin College.
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter. @JonathanTurley.
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