Message Forum

go to bottom 
  Post Message
    Prior Page
Next Page      

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

09/18/22 02:01 PM #204    


Frank Duhl


I don't think I have ever posted here except to say happy birthday to people, but I want to say something now about Gibson's and the College.

I was glad to read Bernie's post.  I, also, have been struggling to find a way to talk about the College and Gibson's. Something important is missing in the discussions here.  It's the context of white supremacy and the fight, mostly by Black people and other people of color, against it.  I just looked back to see when the incident at Gibson's happened.  I hadn't remembered that the shoplifting incident and the protest followed immediately after Trump was elected.  Millions of people, maybe billions around the world, were anxious about what a Trump presidency was going to mean for all of us.  Trump appeals to a base of people who are attracted to his racist calls to stop "murderers and rapists" from crossing the border, etc.  He and the Republican party rely more and more on that appeal to racism.  As it has since its founding, that issue has divided this country.  The right wants schools to stop teaching the real history of the country so "white children don't feel bad."  Oberlin should keep teaching the true history of genocide and white supremacy and not let this mismanaged situation reduce that commitment.

Certainly, the College's actions cost a lot of pain and money.  I just don't want to forget that what students, professors, and administrators were protesting was racism targetting Black Oberlin students.  What I am concerned about is how the College's actions set back the College, the students, and the town's fight against profiling and white supremacy.  Are they trying to save money they knew they would lose in the Gibson's case by firing workers and contracting with a Catholic healthcare system that doesn't give full healthcare?  The message to the Administration and Board should be that they should reinvigorate the College's commitment to social justice.

09/18/22 06:00 PM #205    

Paul Lawn

I haven't posted here on these issues until now either, but will say only, thank you Frank Duhl for articulating my sentiments exactly.  –CR Lawn

09/18/22 08:08 PM #206    

Peter Griswold

I read with interest what Jim Hilton wrote, that at least to me, and perhaps many of the Board members who had little experience in civil lawsuits, $5 million was an enormous amount to accept as a settlement.  Possibly there was a fear that accepting the settlement would invite more lawsuits.  It's my understanding that entities with large financial resources, like major coroporations, are continually fighting lawsuits of dubious metit, and perhaps that is how the general counsel and/or board members viewed the dispute..  Possibly too the Board and administration were afraid of giving in too easly and being accused of wasting the college's resources, or has been noted, they didn't want to alienate their primarry customer base.  Clearly the issues in the lawsuit weren't as minor as the college decision-makers may have believed, but the point was made that re-examining the settlement process is less helpful than reviewing the post-protest actions of the administration that seemed unecessarily cruel to me: canceling the contract with Gibson's, and the e-mails disparaging Gibson's from some administrators.   I agree with Bernie Mayer's important point, that racial profiling is a condition to which many of the protestors were especially senstive, having experienced it directly or thorugh the experience of others.  I don't condemn the motives of the protestors, and recognize that young people are sometimes driven to try to right all the wrongs in the world at once, but in their actions there seems so little consideration for the humanity of the other side, a family running a small business.  Each side seems to represent certain qualities almost like a modern morality play.          

09/19/22 07:21 AM #207    

Chuck Cole

We also have to remember, when we talk about the amount the College has to pay to Gibson's, that how the College responderd to the initial verdict most likely inflenced, probably strongly, the size of punitive damages. There were ways in which some administators seemed to be encouraging the protestors and there were other administrators who later  made the comments about the initial verdict that led to the magniitude of the overall amount. An important question going forward is what the College is going to do to prevent or minimize the likelihood of administators' damaging actions and words.  To what extent has the College--including the President and the Board of Trustees--acknowledged the mistakes that they made?

09/19/22 11:57 AM #208    


Edward McKelvey

Let's not forget that the incident that set off this chain of events was shoplifting--yes, unfortunately by a black student who was joined by two associates.  By itself, this was hardly evidence of racism or racial profiling.  The student in question, who I subsequently had in class, eventually admitted that he was shoplifting--under what conditions I do not know except to say that he seemed intent on pursuing a constructive rather than aggrieved path when he and I crossed paths.

My understanding is that the black student community has for years felt that Gibson's was racist, but why this is the case I do not know.  This feeling apparently underlaid the protests that followed.  The fact that Trump had just been elected two days beforehand was widely taken at the time to be a contributing factor, though unrelated to the original event.  The campus was indeed in shock about the election results, with the usual teach-ins about all kinds of perceived implications.  So there were certainly more constructive outlets available for this purpose.

My own view is that the administration chose to back the student protests, possibly in an effort to protect the dean of students in whatever role she played that day.  In doing so, the administration bypassed an opportunity to take a position against the original offense.

Jim Hilton and others have rightly made the point that the $5 million settlement had to be judged against the unknown outcomes of the trial and the award.  I would only reiterate that a reading of the community's attitudes toward the College should have made clear that a verdict other than acquittal might well have been costly, and I think it is also true that the College's response to the verdict might well have inflated the punitive damage award.



09/19/22 01:02 PM #209    


Ted Morgan

I appreciate Frank Duhl's reminding us of the larger context of white supremacy, Trumpism & the election,within which this incident occurred.  And, indeed, the College & Board should work to restore Oberlin's commitment to social justice.  But I really don't have enough information to know whether or not Gibson's action in this incident was racist or not.  Clearly at that point in time (and generally), Oberlin students of color had much to be incensed about, and as Ed notes, perhaps there were some past racist actions by Gibson's, I don't know.

From what little I know, the overall Oberlin (students and administration together) response to the incident does remind me a bit of times in the 1960s when protesting groups' expression of righteous rage, even if fully justified, paid little heed to their impact on audiences and helped to spur a powerful backlash.   I greatly appreciate Chuck Roxin's comments about enlightened ways of resolving conflicts, repairing injuries and restoring trust; Bernie's, too, about more effective mediation.  There are lessons in there widely relevant to our broken society.


09/19/22 01:28 PM #210    


Robert Baker

I would like to say that I agree completely with what Ed wrote. I understand that Gibson’s was seen as racist by the black students on campus; and I suspect they were watched more closely than white people while in the store. This sort of racism is endemic in our society. The problem in this case was that the College has long been seen as acting arrogantly in the community and throughout Lorain County.  It is not surprising that the diverse jury had some anger at the way Oberlin College treated Gibson’s; both by distributing a flyer calling it racist and by canceling its long-standing contract with Gibson’s. Oberlin was seen as a bully. 


It also seems clear to me that Oberlin was oblivious to how its actions were perceived by the community. I have to disagree a bit with Jim. Although a $5 Million settlement would have been outrageous 40 years ago (we settled the Kent State shootings case for only about $750,000 for four dead and nine wounded students, albeit a much less clear liability case with a jury also angry about demonstrators); it is not been  considered outrageous over the past 10 years or so. In this case, liability should have been clear from the start. A high-ranking administrator of the College handed a defamatory leaflet to a newspaper reporter. The leaflet called Gibson’s and its owners racists. Oberlin could have claimed that the accusation of racism was true; but it either did not raise truth as a defense or it failed to prove it to the satisfaction of the diverse jury. The First Amendment defense was never a viable defense. 


So, it appears Oberlin went forward with a shaky defense (because it couldn’t prove the truth of the accusation); and with no thought that it might be seen as arrogant by the community.  There is much that could have been done, and should be done, by Oberlin to mend relations with the community, as pointed out also by Bernie, Chuck C. and Chuck R. 


In this situation, I side with the students; but the College should have stayed out of it. I doubt that Gibson’s would have sued any students if the College had not taken the actions it did (just as they did not sue any students in this case). Having jumped in, the College should have settled early without digging in its heels. I was shocked by the size of the final verdict; but apparently 12 diverse jurors were not. 

09/19/22 03:42 PM #211    


Donald Salisbury

I too have been following this discussion, and I do especially appreciate Frank Duhl’s exhortation that we message the Administration and Board that efforts be undertaken to reinvigorate the college’s commitment to social justice. This must also have implications for the community and college interactions. In spite of clear factual evidence I have from the very beginning of the 2016 episode suspected Gibson’s of racial discrimination, and I have guessed that this incident was aggravated by the Trumpian political atmosphere. Now, with hindsight, it does appear to me that college could have acted much more wisely. So at this stage I think the college needs to offer apologies for past actions and pledge support for socially just community reconciliation efforts.

09/19/22 04:29 PM #212    

John Henretta

I'd like to respond to two of Bob Baker's comments on this forum and now on the reunion website.

 As I understand it, the health services contractor originally agreed to provide reproductive care but later reneged on the commitment. The College had a very short time to make alternative arrangements. We'll have to see how the substitute arrangements work. Over the longer term, the College should seek a contractor who can provide the full range of care, including reproductive care.  It seems to me that the College acted appropriately to develop an interim solution. Do I misunderstand the current situation or the action the College has taken?

3. Rather than divest in fossil fuels, it is  much more effective to stop using fossil fuels. The College has made a major commitment in that direction with its geothermal project and similar actions. I think the College has a very strong environmental record. The large oil producers aren't coming to the market for new capital. Hence divestment simply means changing private owners and  has only weak symbolic effect, expecially as long as the oil companies are very profitable.

09/19/22 05:31 PM #213    


Charles Roxin

Dear Ted Guest and Everyone Else,

My post from earlier today was inadvertently deleted. 

Thanks Ted for inviting our input and feedback. Thanks Ralph for your wonderful clarification of legalities, and Bernie for Providing context and clarification. And thanks to everyone else for your input.

I have been reluctant to post comments because I believed that I had less information than I would like to wade in on this issue. This year actually marks the 50th anniversary of my membership, leadership and consulting to boards of directors. This experience has included public, not for profit and for profit organizations. During this month, in fact, I have been managing conflict issues as a board leader and advisor on issues of alleged religious descrimination, and a major university and private sector hiring policies. I hope that all of these will be resolved quietly, fairly and in a manner that leaves all parties with greater understandings than they began with.

regarding the Oberlin Board of Trustees and the Gibson situation, I have several hypotheses.

1. The Board does not have a community public relations initiative that assures mutual understanding and consultation between the College and the larger community.

2. The Board does not have a risk management policy or procedures to anticipate and respond to conflict and challenges.

3. The Board does not have a problem solving and decisionmaking protocol that would have allowed detailed fact finding before reacting to events.

And regarding women's reproductive health care,

4. The Board does not have a systematic Due Diligence process that can be deployed when making any such decision. 

By the way, my largest clients all provide outsource health science services [cardiac imaging analysis and cancer analysis and diagnosis]. In this day and age it is naive to assume that subcontracting to a sectarian provider would be without basic conflict.

In addition, while a student at Oberlin I frequently trod the streets of Elyria and Lorraine going door to door for the Democratic party answering questions and urging people to register and vote. It was clear then that Oberlin was in a 'bubble,' generally detached from the larger community. Also, for two years I lived off-campus with the Gibson family.

My focus is on the future. Ted, please do what you can to assure that Board institute and follow robust policies and procedures for anticipating and managing risk, etc. It is also possible that its members may need fundamental training on board roles and responsibilities as a group and in regard to managing the college.

Finally, I am curious, how are other alumni cohorts reacting to this?

p.s. the original $5 million settlement offer was cheap, and should have been jumped on as soon as it was proposed.


Warm Regards

Chuck Roxin


09/19/22 05:58 PM #214    


Paul Safyan

I, too, would like to thank Bernie Mayer and Frank Duhl for staying with the larger context of this dramatic episode, rather than attempting to discern or amplify "the facts" from a very limited scope.

And I endorse Bernie's view that the value and values of the relationship between Gibson's and the College/Conservatory got lost in the efforts by lawyers on both sides attempting to gain "a win" for their clients.  And i also appreciate Frank's urging the College/Conservatory to continue to teach from the base of Oberlins long held values of  social justice.

I think the health care issue that is now unfolding as yet another "black eye" for Oberlin deserves our attention as alumni   That has an immediate effect on current students, staff, and facutly and, to me, shows our alma mater showing a blind eye to the realities of another serious form of discrimination.  I think the Board and the Administration should look very carefully at how it can engage a health contractor which provides equitable care to all.

09/20/22 08:38 AM #215    


Charlie Durfee

I wasn't necessarily planning on posting about the Gibson case, but in response to Chuck Roxin's request for others in the class to weigh in, thought I'd at least say I've been reading our class posts about the college and the case, with interest.  I much appreciate the care, concern and discernment shown in the comments.  That should come with no surprise, of course!  

It was sad to see this story become a featured article in the New York Tines.    The college, especially the board and administration, certainly come out poorly.  Although that did give me a chance to get caught up on some of the facts of the case, fron an objective news source.

There have been many more good posts for me to single out any in particular, although I particularly wish to second Frankie's suggestion for a deep dive by the college into not just why this episode blew up so badly, but the overall relationship of the college and community.  (Hope I have that right, Frankie---I'm just working from memory here.)  Obviously needs more than just a smoothing over and hoping time will change things.  

Thanks again, '68, for the great discussion!  


09/20/22 09:37 AM #216    

Peter Griswold

I appreciate classmates' efforts to put this incident in a larger context of white supremacy and discimination, and to offer constructive steps forward, but could you will indulge me in a little more speculation about the trial?  Bob Baker's observation that Oberlin could not mount a viable defense because there was no hard evidence that Gibson's was engaged in racial profiling and thus was racist.  I use the word "hard" because I'm guessing that Gibson's wan't doing anything so overt that could verify the truth of the accusations of racism. In fact, one of the arguments that the Gibson's used was that they had pursued charges again a larger number of white students.  More likely to me is that the signs of racial profiling may have been more subtle, and likely not in a white person's radar.  I can'[t speak for Black people, but I am guesing that a suspicious or just unfriendly look by a store employee, a little more attention to Black people browsing, a scrutinizing of IDs, can make people of color feel uncomfortable and racially profiled.  And I'm guessing too that the feeling of being racially profiled is more universal and extends to many interactions in retail establishments between Black people and white staff.  There was a story in the NewYork Times years ago, about two women, a Black woman and a whlte woman, shopping in a store.  Each made a purchase, and the white woman tosssed her receipt into the garbage before leaving the store.  The Black woman was aghast, maintaining that a Black person would never throw away a receipt, because of the anticipation that they will be stopped at the exit door and asked to prove that they purchased the item.  

Regarding the size of the settlement, I'm guessing that members of the jury were aware of the college's billion dollar endowment.  Although the amount of the settlement seems enormous to most of us, the jury might have felt, to quote a line that a lawyer made to Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network in urging him to settle with the Winklevoss twins, "it's a traffic ticket," relativenly small in relation to the College's wealth.

09/21/22 08:47 AM #217    


Ralph Shapira

Just a quick clarification on legal terminology so that our contributions about Gibson's, if shown to the administration or trustees, appear better informed.  The money Oberlin ultimately paid was not a "settlement," it was a "judgment."  A settlement in a civil (i.e., not criminal) lawsuit like Gibson's v Oberlin is when the two litigating parties agree to resolve a case before its final conclusion in some manner, usually a payment of money.  If Oberlin and Gibson's had agreed to settle their case before trial by Oberlin's payment of $5 million, as a mediator suggested, then the end result -- the payment of the $5 million in exchange for dismissal of Gibson's lawsuit -- would properly have been called a "settlement."

There was no settlement in the case, because Oberlin and Gibson's never agreed on how to resolve Gibson's lawsuit.  Because the case didn't settle, it proceeded through trial and appeals until the court's final judgment was entered.  The amount Oberlin paid was the "judgment," not the "settlement."

As the New York Times reported in its September 8 article, "The college acknowledged that the size of the judgment, which includes damages and interest, was significant." (emphasis added)


09/21/22 10:33 AM #218    


Robert Baker

Just to reply briefly to John Henretta, The college did respond appropriately to the problem of the change in policy; the big problem was outsourcing in the first place (to get lower paid workers, or fewer of them), and the mistake of choosing one affiliated with a church against providing full women's health services. The issue should have been predictable. As far as divestment is concerned, the same arguments were made in opposition to divestment from companies doing business in South Africa in the 1980's. Oberlin should not be making money from fossil fuels. That's why I divested my personal shares in Exxon and Chevron. Those earnings can be made elsewhere. 

09/21/22 10:55 AM #219    


Robert Baker

Well said, Peter and Ralph. 

09/21/22 10:58 AM #220    


Robert Baker

I should also add that there is a long list of colleges and universities that have adopted a divestment policy (about 90 or so, including many that compete with Oberlin for students -- with some other glaring omissions). 

09/21/22 01:29 PM #221    


Ralph Shapira

Divestment is a difficult issue for me personally.  Our homes, businesses and transportation mostly run on oil and gas, and we need someone to supply it.  The oil companies are entitled to earn a profit for doing so, and I wouldn't divest them for supplying a product we're demanding.  

As profit making companies, they may or may not be good investments.  I personally think they're lousy investments since we will be using less and less of their products in the future, and the supply glut which that portends means lower prices and less profitability.  So I don't and wouldn't own their stocks and would counsel Oberlin to avoid doing so.  But that's because they're lousy investments, not because their business is supplying our oil and gas.

Some of the oil companies have run campaigns to deny climate change science, just as the tobacco companies sowed doubt about cancer.  I wouldn't own their stocks as a matter of principle.  From recollection, I think Exxon was an active climate denier, while others weren't.  If I were considering investing in O&G companies, I'd investigate which were guilty of that unpardonable sin and which weren't.  

09/22/22 09:16 AM #222    

Peter Griswold

Thanks for the clarification between the terms settlement and judgment.  I've been guildty of confusing the two.    

go to top 
  Post Message
    Prior Page
Next Page