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09/13/22 11:14 AM #179    


Ralph Shapira

One further clarification.  "Boycott Gibson's" is free speech.  "Gibson's is racist and has a long history of racial animus," if untrue, is not free speech -- it is actionable slander (if spoken) or libel (if written).  Slander and libel are the two kinds of "defamation."  The First Amendment does not protect defamation.

09/13/22 11:29 AM #180    


Ralph Shapira

Here's another clarification.  "The Gibsons are a bunch of jerks" is a statement of opinion, which cannot support a defamation claim.  Only a false statement of fact is actionable as defamation.   "The Gibsons are a bunch of jerks and you shouldn't shop there" is a combination of opinion and free speech -- again, not actionable.  I'm sure Oberlin argued that "Gibson's is racist" was a non-actionable statement of opinion, and in my mind that's a close call; the judge felt otherwise.  But "Gibson's is racist and has a long history of racist behavior" looks more like a statement of fact, which if untrue would (and did, in our case) support an actionable defamation claim.    



09/13/22 02:49 PM #181    


Robert Baker

I completely agree with these last three posts from Ralph. They explain the legal issues succinctly. What's unclear is what legal counsel advised the Board about the situation. Either the Board refused to follow legal advise, or that advise was incompetent. Only the Board knows which is true. 

09/13/22 02:50 PM #182    


Robert Baker

Actually, legal counsel also knows; but they are not allowed to divulge their advise without permission from the Board. 

09/13/22 02:51 PM #183    


Robert Baker

*advice. (In both posts)

09/13/22 03:08 PM #184    


John Barrer

Wow, thanks (Ralph, Ted, Robert, Reed, et. al) for the education on the Gibson case.  I didn't know of all the subtleties and facts.  Consequently, I had believed that the college was being penalized for merely sympathizing with the students whose actions were defamatory.  I knew about the $5M offer to settle and assumed (always dangerous) that because they didn't accept it that the college and its lawyers "knew" that they had a very strong defense.

I am just so disappointed in Oberlin.  In the 60's students were protesting national issues, such as the Vietnam war, racial discrimination, and women's rights.   In this instance, protesting the assumed racism of a mom-and-pop grocer doesn’t seem to be in the same universe of causes.  I watched one of the videos of the protesting students chanting in front of Gibson’s one evening.  It just struck me as being similar to the mob scene from the original Frankenstein movie, minus the pitchforks and torches.  It wasn’t a call to end racism, it was a call for revenge.

My son graduated from Oberlin in 2021 in Politics and just finished a master’s in political science from Columbia this Summer.  Even as a Politics major at Oberlin, he didn't feel like he fit in the with the extreme views and intolerance that seemed to be the norm.  There was a widespread atmosphere of intolerance at Oberlin at a time when educated people should be advocating for rational discussions of issues and tolerance of diverse opinions.  His experience at Columbia was in sharp contrast to the misery he felt at Oberlin.

I hope that Oberlin can recover its values and reputation as a place that trains people to be insightful and tolerant leaders in their fields.

09/13/22 06:43 PM #185    


Dick Hobby



1   Robert Dickinson makes great recommendations for how Oberlin College should respond to the Gibsons.  The board and the administration seem unlikely to follow his advice.  The board and the administration should be replaced

2   Ralph Shapira makes great point after great point about the Gibson affair as well as about free speech in general.  Bravo Ralph!

3    The lawyers are not the problem.  The problem is Oberlin College.  It suppoted the allegations that the Gibsons were racist and as Ralph points out, without evidence to support this, this is slander.

4    I personally do not think $35M is excessive.  Given what the Gibson family has gone through emotionally and financially $35M seems reasonable to me.  And it should send a message to the College that arrogance and slander are not good things.










09/14/22 06:08 AM #186    


Richard Zitrin

Catching up from abroad. As a long-time trial lawyer, I agree with everything Ralph said. I also agree with Bob B. Sometimes, clients (here Oberlin's administration) do stupid things and certainly things that the lawyers don't support. But - here as a longtime ethics prof - it would clearly be a breach of confidentiality and loyalty for the lawyers to even intimate that the college went against their advice. Unless the college took action against the lawyers to complain (which is not gonna happen), the lawyers must and will remain silent.

And to underscore Ralph's point, he has nailed it about the distinction between "I hate Gibson's" and "Gibson's espoused racism."


09/14/22 07:22 AM #187    

Peter Griswold

Ralph, thanks for the explanation about the distinction between actionable slander and libel versus opinion.  Appreciate your clearing up what was confusing to me.

09/14/22 01:30 PM #188    


Elizabeth Sherman (Elvy)

I was horrified to read Mrs. Gibson's side of the story. That woman and her family were wronged--first by petty pilfering by privileged students who should know better; next by slander and libel and an unjust boycot; next by breaking the wonderful relation that Gibson's Bakery has always had with Oberlin College. The monetary penalty for the College's unkind and unjust acts is indeed excessive--but so is the suffering College employees and students have caused the Gibson family. Now the College should pay up with grace and an apology to the last remaining Gibson. And the next time Oberlin students act badly, we should all keep our traps shut until the facts or known, keeping in mind that the law needs to treat everybody--whether it is Oberlin students or Donald Trump--the same. 

09/14/22 02:25 PM #189    

Robert Dickinson

I wonder if anyone in the current administration or members of the Board of Trustees have access to, or bother to read the messages that are posted to our Message Forum?  I think it would be valuable to our College President Ms Carmen Ambar, and the rest of the administration, and the Board of Trustees to know the opinions and the attitudes of a number of the Alumni.  I believe most of the postings in regard to the Gibson affair have been insightful and reasonable and are based on the facts as we know them and are not resentful or hateful towards the current administration.  They need to know that by and large we are not sympathetic to the College's cause and we have mostly expressed a position about further donations and contribution to the school without changes being made.  I do not know the Board members or the administration, but for me, until they make a concerted effort to make amends with the Gibson Family and their business, I will not have any respect for, or confidence in, either the Administration or the Board. 

09/14/22 06:03 PM #190    


Frances Hagberg (Graham)

FI want to thank all of you deeply who posted comments about this matter over the last few years and especially since the decision. I responded to Reed Cosper but didn't post my comment in the forum as it was focused on the challenges, if you will, of lawyering. I would comment that the culmination of this case with the GIbsons, demands, in my opinion, some sort of formal exploratory event or series of events such as a period of serious self-examination such as a Truth and Reconcilation Commission with the exploration eventually published and publicly available.  There needs to be a "Warren Commission" report that listens and listens, then deliberates and documents what happened back before the "incident" up through the end of the lawsuit. Probably made up of people from outside the orbit of Oberlin altogether as well as some who are or were part of the college. Not to punish but to reflect and set about exploring on a factual basis what in the world has evolved into a failure of character and statesmanship.

Oberlin is not alone in this failure, but having been caught in a very public way creates an opportunity that would not otherwise exist for the common good. It would require some sort of seed funding.  The commission should include a relevant but separate focus on the development of the committees that were set up to "investigate" allegations of sexual harassment and the damaging way those inquiries have been carried out. Again, to explore how good people get it wrong. How emotion overtakes process. How lives have been harmed. We are all left with a sense of disaappointment, even despair, at our sense of what the historic and (I hope) living purpose of our institution must aspire to but shows little recent sign of demonstrating. I would rather support something that was an affirmation of what I have learned in my life in and out of Oberlin than participate in protest.

Only this week I visited the campus of St. John's University in Collegeville, MN, which houses a world class and irreplaceable treasury of religious (all or nearly all religions) digitized documents through the ages. The Benedictines have long gone and go tromping into war torn areas (such as Cameroon) and often ancient documents and volumes that are at risk of being destroyed. (One recent trip was devoted to visiting a family that was hiding very old Islamic texts in Africa somewhere). The campus rests in the area that the Native Americans designated long ago as the "sacred space" because it is where the woodlands and prairie meet up. There is a Marcel Breuer 1953 church on site worthy of a visit in and of itself. And there was the creation of a 20th century handscripted and decorated Bible that is maintained there (it took many years to complete) on parchment that can be viewed. There are statues and monuments on campus recognizing the Native tribes that used to live in the area and acknowledging the repression and harm that Europeans have done. On one rectangle of grass there were as many miniature flags as martyrs on 9/11/2001, in remembrance of that day 21 years ago.  The campus is bordered by a small lake and there is a 2 mile hike to a small chapel where friends of mine married about 40 years ago before going off to the Peace Corps in Honduras. Thus I wanted to see the place.

The college is located in Stearns County which has always shown itself as the seat of old fashioned hard-core descendants of mainly German immigrants and it has a reputation that contrasts with the multifaceted Twin Cities. If a Catholic university hidden away in the middle of Minnesota, in a conservative section of the state, can offer itself as a candle to the world of today, then Oberlin College needs to demonstrate the capability to approach the world in an ecumenical way, reflective of a broad capacity to embrace its wrongs and somehow cross the river of reproach into a different mindset. Since we are at a crossroads as a country there is something small-minded about the college that seeps into the statements we've seen so far. 

If we do not clean up, become transparent, show the world and ourselves what we have done well and have not done well, how can we expect respect and how can we endure?

Most sincerely, Frankie Hagberg Graham


09/14/22 09:54 PM #191    


Dick Hobby

I think Robert Dickinson has come up with a splendid suggestion:  let's share our comments about the Gibson affair with President Ambar and the Trustees.

What would be the mechanism for doing this?






09/15/22 05:04 PM #192    


Reed Cosper

Frankie: Terrific ideas. Had to say that now. I'll  cogitate amp attempt to add ideas your comment generated.


09/15/22 05:14 PM #193    

Ted Gest

As our class' only representative on the Alumni Leadership Council, I'm glad
to convey the thoughts on this forum to the college administration but I doubt
that they would read through them all, so what is the succinct message?

That many people in our class are unhappy and some don't want to give
further donations until the college details the mistakes made in the 
Gibson's affair?

That sounds like a reasonable request, but will it get us anywhere? Remember
that all major people involved in the affair, including the lawyers, are gone,
so the current administration likely would find some way to blame it on them.
The trustees responsible are still there and are culpable.

I would hope that the trustees and current administrators have learned
from this, but we need to hear that.

The council is meeting at Oberlin in early October and is sure to
learn more about this. Any other suggestions?


09/15/22 10:07 PM #194    


Edward McKelvey

Ted, the current administration may well blame those who have gone, but Carmen is starting her sixth year as Oberlin's president.  While she was not part of the Oberlin community at the time of the original event she had the opportunity to put this behind the College when she acceded to the position and possibly many other times as well.  As for the Trustees, Chris Canavan has been president of the Board even longer.  So I while they may choose to blame others long gone, this administration and this board bear significant responsibility in managing this case.



09/15/22 10:50 PM #195    


Frances Hagberg (Graham)

Ted, I made suggestions for Truth and Reconcilation. See above. Frankie

09/15/22 11:47 PM #196    


Dick Hobby

Ted:   A summary is OK but I really think it would be more effective to send all the comments in full to Ambar and to each member of the board.  Then they will get the full force of our ideas and criticism.










09/16/22 08:46 AM #197    


Edward McKelvey

Outside all the foregoing points about legalities and how lawyers could and should have handled this situation, on which I have no basis to comment, I am struck by how badly the College misread its chances of avoiding both an adverse verdict and probably a large award to boot given the community's views and attitudes about the College.  Yes, the College has some good community programs, including free tuition for qualifying graduates of the local high school.  But you don't have to spend much time living in Oberlin before you realize how negatively the College is viewed by those not connected with it, and I understand from talking to employees who live elsewhere in Lorain County that these views are not strictly town/gown.  This is the pool from which the jury was drawn, and while I think the case was decided correctly on what I understand the facts to be, decisions on the size of the award may well have been influenced by these attitudes.




09/16/22 09:15 AM #198    


Edward McKelvey

Regarding how to communicate our views to the administration and trustees, I'd make a few quick points: first, I doubt the key decision makers will have the time or patience to read through all of these comments; second, in my view passing them on requires explicit permission from each and every one of us; third, only a small fraction of the class has weighed in on the Gibson's case.  This may be the easiest justification for ignoring them.


09/16/22 02:17 PM #199    


Robert Baker

Ted, Oberlin has three major black eyes going on right now, in the view of many alumni: 1. The failure to deal with the Gibson's case properly; 2. The contracting out of health services to a private entity that does not provide full services to women; and, 3. The failure to divest from fossil fuels, and refusal to meet with the group that has been raising this issue.  We are succeeding in being left behind as a quality liberal arts institution.  Anything you can do on these three issues with the ALC and, through it, the Administration and Board of Trustees would be appreciated  we are becoming a laughingstock, as pointed out by Bob Kuttner '65 in is nationally distributed newsletter with respect to point 2. above.




09/16/22 06:35 PM #200    

Bernie Mayer

I have been hesitant to jump into this because I have no deep knowledge about what occurred and I respect the really interesting explanations by Ralph and Bob and Reed and Rich (and thanks for the shout out to The Neutrality Trap, Reed).


But nonetheless, here I go. 


There has clearly been plenty of pain to go around here.  The students who stole the goods, the Gibsons, the college community (admin, faculty, trustees, students, and alumni), the town.  There also seems to be no shortage of places to point some fingers at, and clearly with the perspective we now have this has been mishandled in many ways and probably continues to be poorly handled.


I am especially concerned about the impact this has had on students at Oberlin when this happened and currently.  And even more specifically at the impact on BIPOC students.  There is an underlying tone to the coverage that suggests that this is all a result of Oberlin having become too “woke” or “politically correct” for its own good.  The implication here is pretty clear.  And yet, I am pretty sure that most students of color have experienced racial profiling, probably repeatedly, in their lives, and possibly while at Oberlin as well, and I suspect they are feeling blamed and alienated by this whole situation.  I hope that there is some reaching out to this community going on. 


I am not a lawyer (married to a law professor but that doesn’t really count), but for 40 years I have been a mediator, student of conflict, and teacher of conflict intervention processes.  I have a finger I want to point.  This mediation clearly missed the mark.  It seems to have focused on getting an agreement about quantum and not helping the college and the Gibsons communicate. I suspect it was conducted mostly by lawyers who were focusing on the worth of the case, the probable outcome in court, and how much money should therefore be exchanged.  This is of course an element in such situations, but this was a case about relationships as well.  I may be wrong, but this is how too many settlement processes take place.  Get an agreement but don’t really deal with the problem. But I also know that we don’t know what really occurred (and probably never will).


I agree with Frankie that some kind of restorative justice would be useful—the most effective of these requires that healing work start within the different parties to a conflict before they are brought together.


I also wanted to add one more item to the list of major black eyes that Bob raised, and that is the outsourcing of many college services and the laying off of many long serving college staff, just as COVID was beginning to take its toll.  Most of those who were dismissed, many after years and years of service, live in the community—this has certainly not helped the college with relationships with people in Lorain County.  And it pissed off a lot of alumni too.


I hope in our discussion, we remember how limited our perspective is and the range of people who have been hurt by this sorry story. But of course, we should hold the college’s feet to the fire about how they have allowed things to get to this point as best we can with our rather limited power.






09/17/22 12:09 PM #201    


Daniel Miller

Given the well known attitudes of catholic hospitals towards supplying complete health services for women, the idea of contracting with a catholic health service in the first place is nonsensical.  But since it appears that they originally promised to provide complete services and then changed their mind afterwards, is there someway that they can be held responsible for paying for the extra service that was required or at least getting a reduction in what the college pays for their present service?


09/17/22 01:07 PM #202    

Edna Chun

I concur with Robert Baker's fourth black eye and have written about this in a recent book regarding the outsourcing of staff functions in higher education All of these reflect on Oberlin as an employer and community member. I also agree with Ed McKelvey's assessment of the decision-making process both by the prior and current admiistrations.

09/18/22 01:48 PM #203    


James Hilton

On the subject of of the Gibsons disaster, I wonder who among us, or, more importantly,  among the trustees, would have endorsed or supported the 5 MM proposed settlement when presented by the mediator.   People like Ralph who have seen   runaway juries in action might well have, but otherwise I suspect those in a position to influence the decision  to accept the settlement would have found it very difficult at the time to bring themselves to lead a charge to endorse the settlement,  "How could we lose more than 5MM at trial", they might have asked each other.   This might well have been said if the facts and potential outcomes were not presented to the decision makers in  the most candid manner and with appropriate detail.  For all I know, there may have been such a presentation. Or perhaps, not so much.  In any event, any proposed settlement of any future claims against the college will likely be given  due consideration, and may perhaps be too readily accepted

At this point, I think the primary focus should not be a review of the settlement process.  Rather, perhaps it would be appropriate to review the  systems that led to or at least enabled  the behavior by school representatives that the jury felt was  so upsetting. That might well include changing  a job description here and there, as well as related qualifications and processes. 

Jim Hilton

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