Perspective Important in Gibson’s Case

To the Editors:

I’m writing to disagree with almost everything in Booker C. Peek’s recent opinion column, “Oberlin, Gibson’s Should Settle Out-of-Court” (The Oberlin Review, Dec. 1, 2017).

I laughed at Peek’s opening comment that the lawsuit “has the potential to be earth-shattering.” Really? Let’s maintain some perspective here. This is a tempest in a teapot, a tiny incident at a small college. Potentially earth-shattering would be President Trump’s brinksmanship with North Korea, or the increasing severity of tropical storms fueled by global climate change. Those are earth-shattering issues that Oberlin and its students should be addressing.

Peek also writes about the damage of a financial settlement. Maybe that’s what he means by “earth-shattering.” Again, I disagree. A settlement with Gibson’s will hardly cripple the school. Even if a multi-million dollar settlement is reached — though unlikely — Oberlin surely has both the resources and insurance to lessen the financial blow. While Oberlin is in the middle of some belt-tightening, let’s keep it in perspective. From all accounts, it’s still a very pleasant place to work and to attend.

Having this issue land in the lap of a new president, Carmen Twillie Ambar, compounds the “dire” situation, in Peek’s opinion. Having seen President Ambar speak about Oberlin on her recent tour of key alumni cities, I think she’s the perfect person to handle the situation. She made it clear that opening dialogue across campus is one of her priorities, and this is a situation that has raised a lot of conversation already. As an African-American — and race is the reason the original, garden-variety alleged crime has been raised to a such a fever pitch — she can handle the situation with perspective that most college presidents can’t. In fact, if she sweeps it under the rug with a quick settlement, that will cut off important on-campus discussion: “We can’t talk about it because we settled the case.” And secrecy could light additional fires on social media.

Ironically, though I disagree with Peek’s commentary, I think that a settlement is the most likely course of action. These types of disputes are almost always settled out-of-court precisely for the reasons Peek articulated — all parties want to move on, and they want to keep awkward details secret. But I’m not only an Oberlin alum. I was on the Review editorial staff for two years, and I’m a journalist today. Journalists dislike lawsuit settlements because important information is kept from the public.

In sum, I don’t think that the College is well-served by secrecy. In this particular case, I have no idea who is wrong — from the accused shoplifters, to Gibson’s, to Oberlin. It seems that Oberlin has taken a page from President Trump’s playbook of trying to bully a business. But maybe not. Maybe each of the parties is wrong to varying degrees. Regardless, I think that having more information is better than having less. If getting that information keeps this issue alive for a few more months, I can live with that.

Kevin Adler
OC ’84