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Oberlin, Gibson’s Should Settle Out-of-Court

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We should all root for a quick out-of-court resolution between Gibson’s Bakery and Oberlin College. It can be exciting for us to root for our favorite teams; that is what sports are all about. We may debate who the greatest composer is, the finest painter, or the best dancer. Having all those options is what we enjoy in America, along with the right not to take part at all. But there are times when the outcome of a matter affects us quite profoundly. This lawsuit is not a sporting event; its outcome has the potential to be earth-shattering.

The founders of the College settled in a wilderness in the 19th century, a site where there were no humans at all. In the intervening period — more than 150 years — we have this great town and an amazing College, both of which embrace and promote so many of our country’s defining values — freedom, justice, and nondiscrimination. The Gibson’s establishment has long been a fixture of our business section right across from Tappan Square, the name of “Gibson” honoring one who did not want Black people enslaved and who provided much-needed funds to keep the College afloat. Gibson’s and the College have thrived all these years because they have found a lot of common ground and worked together.

This lawsuit could not have landed upon the College at a worse time. The College’s first-ever Black president, President Carmen Ambar, has been in her position barely four months. The financial situation seems about as dire as it has been in recent memory; it is unprecedented that most professors have had to go two straight years without an increase in their salaries because too few students enrolled and too many failed to return.

Adverse publicity, particularly that arising from an incident involving three Black students and a white business, could stain and weaken the College, Gibson’s, and the city for a long time. Conversely, they could all flourish, as they always did in the past, if they seek and find mutually satisfying solutions. Gibson’s case against the College and the College’s response to it can and should be hashed out behind closed doors.

A lot is at stake. All Oberlin College students and employees will feel a painful sting from any financial settlement — and definitely from a sizable one — that the College may pay. Gibson’s, to its credit, did all that it could to keep the matter from ever going to trial in the first place; it’s ironic that there’s a suit, but they deserve fair chance to recover any losses.

A bare-knuckled, nasty, public fight will leave ugly scars and a putrid smell with no true winner. From what was read, all sides — the students, the College, and Gibson’s — would probably change much of what they did to get us to this day. Any settlement in the dark may produce light for a future just as bright as that of our past.

Celebrate this day.

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19 Comments

19 Responses to “Oberlin, Gibson’s Should Settle Out-of-Court”

  1. Skeeta Allison on November 18th, 2017 7:53 AM

    Hahaha. I hope Gibsons wins their case in THE COURT ROOM !!! The college should have stayed out of the whole situation. SUPPORT GIBSONS !!!

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  2. Man with the Axe on November 18th, 2017 4:13 PM

    After reading this piece I went back and read the news accounts of the shoplifting incident. The facts look really bad for the students, and therefore for the protesters, who were protesting the wrong party, and the college.

    The facts seem to be that the students were stealing wine, using a forged ID, and assaulted the store employee who tried to stop them. Why Oberlin students would then want to protest the store, instead of the guilty students, is beyond me. Are stores supposed to allow people to simply steal from them just because the thieves are black? That’s what the protest seems to imply. And why would the college refuse to support the victim of the crime? Is it because progressives always, always side with blacks against whites regardless of the facts, as in the Michael Brown case?

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    Gary Schoene Reply:

    I did not go to Oberlin, but always thought of it as a fine school. I always thought of it as a music school, not a “liberal” school. I read about this Gibson Bakery spat on Yahoo. It has gone national. My opinion is diversity for the sake of diversity can destroy in a short time what took years to build. Good luck to both Gibsons, and Oberlin College.

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  3. Jane Coryell on November 18th, 2017 7:49 PM

    Some days, I’m unhappy that I’m over 80 years old, but some days, I’m glad. I loved Gibson’s, and it was treated well by students in my day. I’m very sorry that the college and Gibson’s are at odds today..

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  4. Daniel Monti on November 19th, 2017 4:46 AM

    There’s no question that this unfortunate dispute could have been resolved long before now through means falling well short of a boycott and lawsuit. It still could, if the College’s caretakers wanted to make that happen. In the meantime and until such time as cooler heads prevail, I would ask that the adults in the room consider what the College stands to lose no matter what the legal outcome is. The optics of this situation are just awful. The biggest kid on the block smacks down a little guy. Wow! Who could have seen that coming? More importantly, perhaps, the lessons students take away from this regrettable episode might not serve them well in the future or be celebrated at wherever college administrators go these days to pat each other on the back. Notable among them being that power brings more privileges than it does obligations and that an institution of higher learning is a sanctuary rather than a haven.

    Dan Monti ’71

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  5. MaryAnn Kelly on November 19th, 2017 7:33 AM

    Cheers to Gibson’s for filing suit. I hope they win. I’ve had enough of the liberal, snowflake colleges who perceive that the the only way is their way and prevent freedom of speech to anyone opposing their views!

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  6. Mike Grasso on November 19th, 2017 12:03 PM

    In reply to Mr. Peek’s piece. Let’s cut with the political correctness once again and let it become that public fight that it should. Oberlin and its impatient and over reactionary student body brought this upon themselves. They do not deserve to get off so easily. Allow democracy and the rule of law to take the appropriate course . They started this fight in the public’s eye and saw to it that it stayed that way ….let it finish there. Even Oberlin’s 150+ year legacy needs to learn that every action, has its consequences. There are no trade-offs in life. Shame on these players as those noteworthy and most respected Oberlin founding fathers now turn in their graves.

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  7. James Henderson on November 19th, 2017 6:38 PM

    I want to thank Mr. Peek for this thoughtful letter. As a trained and practicing mediator, I agree that a private mediation with a private settlement would make the most sense – for what it is worth, I am available.

    As someone who grew up in Oberlin there are two things that trouble me.

    The first is the the blind rush to make this a racial issue. And that rush to judgement has been on both sides. From my perspective, this is not an issue of color or discrimination. The report from the Oberlin Police outlining the percentage of shoplifters arrested in terms of racial demographics go a long way to dispute the student protestors claims.

    The second is what I have to say seems like an over reach on the part of the College administration to exert control over the town (let’s be honest, Oberlin is pretty small by city standards).

    As Mr. Peek pointed out, the college and the town have both grown in tandem. That has, at times, taken some pretty tough negotiation and a fair amount of give and take.

    As I often say in my mediation practice, we did not get here overnight. And now that we have reached this point, there is no winning for EITHER SIDE, only degrees of losing. For better or worse we are now at a point where we need to deal with this conflict – and yes, this is most assuredly a conflict. And it is a conflict that has been bubbling under the surface since at least the 70s, although now it is well and truly out in the open. And I agree with Mr. Peek again on his assessment of the potential damage this lawsuit will cause to both parties, regardless of the outcome.

    Should either party wish to try and mediate this out, feel free to give me a shout ; )

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  8. Bruce Livingston on November 21st, 2017 6:43 PM

    I applaud Professor Peek’s sentiment. This Gibson’s debacle is a lose-lose situation for all parties, and it would be better to be settled quickly and without further rancor.

    I agree with several other of the commenters, who note the obvious: that the incidence of shoplifting prosecutions by Gibson’s does not appear to have any racial basis; that Gibson’s has been a small business with an historic connection to the college; and that this litigation does not in any way enhance the college’s reputation, locally or nationally. There is no winning in this case. The entire imbroglio continues to damage the college’s reputation.

    The college’s first imposition of orders from on-high, which prohibited doing business with Gibson’s in the immediate aftermath of this unfortunate incident, was a power-play unworthy of the institution. In temporarily ceasing its long-time purchases from Gibson’s, the college chose sides early-on, despite its long-term relationship with Gibson’s. I suppose the college would claim it chose a neutral corner when it ceased its purchases, but in my mind, maintaining the status quo would have been the right thing to do while investigators sorted things out. Maintaining neutrality would have avoided the heavy-handed, bullying aura that the college assumed, when it seemed to favor an assaultive thief over a tiny local business with which it had a long history. After Gibson’s filed the lawsuit, the college’s knee-jerk reaction to cease purchases again, is more understandable, and doubtless driven by its lawyers, but that only highlights how badly this episode has gone wrong. The whole situation reeks of misguided support by the college for its own — both the shoplifters who beat a store-keeper when called to account for their thievery; and the student demonstrators who leapt to ill-advised conclusions in support of accused thieves and batterers who proved unworthy of the demonstrators’ support.

    While I am not an alumni, I was raised here, and I married a graduate of Oberlin College. My father dedicated his career to the college (and has had no input, whatsoever, in this comment). Having grown up in such a household, with the benefit of informed and varied perspectives, I have observed the ebb and flow of town-gown relationships over the years. I have a warm spot in my heart for the town of Oberlin and Oberlin College. I have lead a privileged life, due in no small part to Oberlin College, which offered remuneration to my father and the stimulating impact of unparallelled musical and intellectual offerings in such a small town. But the greatest privilege was the opportunity, the blessing, to grow up in this racially diverse community.

    This entire situation between Gibson’s and the college makes me sad. One of the ways in which this story will be told, should it continue to unfold in the national media, will distract from, if not dishonor, the college’s storied history and its ongoing efforts in support of civil rights and an end to discrimination. Such stories will increase neither the matriculation rate, nor donations to scholarship funds and the endowment.

    What I regret most is not the college taking sides early on, or its seeming devaluation of its relationship with Gibson’s, but its failure to take the high road and work things out. Apparently, the college did not care enough to make amends for tacitly supporting the outcry of a mob of ill-informed student demonstrators against a small local business. Often times an apology will go a long way to assuage hurt feelings. While it is late, it is not too late. Settle this case.

    Bruce Livingston
    Oberlin High School, ’75

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  9. Ummmmm on November 22nd, 2017 5:43 PM

    I agree that the College should settle promptly. You cite declining enrollment and re-enrollment as an issue, and frankly, the reputation for self righteous, narcissitic, ideologically driven foolishness that Oberlin’s student body has earned itself over the last 5 years probably plays a part in that. Now, in general sophomoric stupidity is pretty weak news, but here you have a case where the student body boycotted a family business after student body members members first stole from, and then physically assaulted, its owner, for the horribly racist crime of apprehending a shoplifter. When naive undergraduate righteousness morphs into actual violent crime and organised persecution, you know something stinks about the local culture. I hesitate to suggest it, but perhaps the faculty and administration have contributed.

    So yeah. Better to apologize and bail on this one. Even if Oberlin wins in court, it will just drag out the suffering, and even if the law is not on Gibsons side, they are justified in feeling aggrieved. Moreover, everyone knows it, except maybe some Oberlin students and graduates: therein lies the problem.

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    Michael Reply:

    As a parent who recently went through the college selection application process with two children, I would have strongly discouraged them from applying to Oberlin. There are just too many incidents like this one that showcase a student body and administration that is rife with poor judgement and systematic suppression of free speech and due process. There is a tipping point where the institution will be adversely impacted by these continued behavior and I think your college is seeing that now with declining applications and yield rate.

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  10. Al on November 24th, 2017 8:10 AM

    I declare shenanigans. Gibson’s real problem here is their HIGH PRICES.
    I have been in the convenience store business for my entire adult life,and if you compare Gibson’s prices to similar stores,they are way way WAY overpriced on almost every single item. Ex. They tell the students that they’re cigarettes are priced $4 higher than Mickey Mart because they are an independent,not a chain. This is false. Other independent stores at most are $1 higher. They are mostly losing sales because of usury pricing,taking advantage of the fact that they are the closest cash register to the campus. This lawsuit should falter on this basis alone. Do your homework and compare their prices.

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    Ummmmm Reply:

    I think being robbed, physically assaulted, defamed and boycotted are reasonable grounds for complaint. The Oberlin line has been to blame the clear cut victims of illegality for seeking legal redress, or at the very least o suggest that the verycomplaint is ignoble.

    This, the beacon of enlightenment.

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    Common sense Reply:

    Gibson’s can charge whatever prices they feel the market is willing to bear (the essence of a free-market economy), but the so-called “usury” is not germane to the case in question.

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  11. Robert M. Slugg '79 on November 30th, 2017 2:50 PM

    I hope part of the settlement is for OC to change its name to the Oberlin Camp for Social Justice Warriors. I just never know these days whether my daily dose of embarrassment will come from being an Oberlin Alumnus or living in Portland, Oregon, another place where people just don’t seem to “get it.”

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  12. Anonymous on December 10th, 2017 5:16 PM

    I wish to remain anonymous. since putting my name attached to non PC sentiments could jeopardize my employment .
    I apologize for coming late to this discussion.
    I spent two years a long time ago at Oberlin, then transferred to a state university for reasons of economics and to get a better quality science and technology education.
    Oberlin, now blindly adhering to PC ideology, and attempting to conceal the criminal behavior of a sub group of its students by threatening local shop keepers with economic sanctions if they turn student thieves over to the police makes the College no better than the Big Name Universities which privilege criminals on their athletic teams.
    I now wonder what purpose Oberlin currently serves, the intellectual rigor and introduction to the the ideals of the civilization from which Oberlin arose, have been replaced by classes overseen by under qualified “professors” spouting Derrida derived word salad; lots of fury with no meaningful content, a lot of scripted babble meaning nothing. Oberlin went from being an institution that actually trained its students to think logically, into a play pen for teaching sheep how to spout scripted buzzwords, that reflexively fosters and privileges criminal behaviors if the perps have politically correct victim status, without examining the costs of blindly adhering to a belief system.
    Oberin College has outlived its usefulness, it has lost its way, it has no legitimate purpose. The crashing admissions, the students who do not return, choosing instead to continue their education at other institutions show that this is becoming widely realized.
    A degree from Oberlin is no longer a distinction, it is black mark against you.
    Oberlin College’s actions against the Gibsons are the hallmark of an institution in the final stages of moral decay, I hope the Gibsons win their suit. I would like it if Oberlin College was able to find its way again, but I think this is not going to happen, and it would probably be best if the institution stopped wasting the time and money of future generations of students, and gracefully shut itself down.

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  13. Mark T. on December 11th, 2017 11:05 PM

    Sorry, but the extraordinarily spineless college administrators brought this upon themselves. Those who pander to nonsense deserve the ramifications of it. Here’s hoping for a big win for Gibson’s.

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  14. Kevin Short on December 14th, 2017 3:44 AM

    Personally, it seems to me if the punishment is just, Oberlin should pay, and pay through the nose. After reading a bit on the case, Oberlin clearly did defame the business, assisted in that defamation, and now wants to wash their hands of the matter. But of you believe in Social Justice, the damage to this families good name requires compensation. The students protesting Gibson”s show epistemic vice in their actions, rushing out before they actually knew the facts.

    It should hurt the school, it is just that the school and the students are hared after they have harmed others, this is how we learn not to repeat our mistakes. If you claim to believe in Social Justice (however that is defined) then you must submit yourself to justice when you fail, as you clearly did here. Whatever might be true of Gibson”s prices (based doubtlessly on what the market will bear, see Thomas Sowell”s economic facts and fallacies on what that means), as noted in an earlier letter, is beside the point. Oberlin did wrong. Go ahead and settle, but at Oberlin”s cost.

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