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Oberlin College case shows how universities are losing their way (thehill.com)
242 points by grellas 38 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 180 comments

A bit more factual context:

1. The student "protests" erupted the day after the 2016 election results came in, with a corresponding politically inflammatory element at work in the background.

2. The underlying incident involved an underaged black student who attempted to buy a bottle of wine, was refused, and was then found to have 2 other bottles under his coat as he walked out. When the owner's son chased him out, an altercation ensued and, as police arrived, they found the owner's son on the ground being hit and kicked by three persons, including 2 female friends of the shoplifter.

3. I use shoplifter, instead of "alleged shoplifter," because a guilty plea was entered admitting to the crime and also acknowledging that racial profiling had nothing to do with the incident.

4. Protests immediately erupted and were so volatile that the local police chief said he felt he had to call in outside help from a riot squad.

5. The students who did the protests claimed that Gibson's bakery not only had engaged in racial profiling in the particular incident but also that it was a long-time racist presence in the local business community. (Gibson's had been founded in 1880 and was strictly a family owned business, with the business supporting 3 generations of the family at the time of the incident).

6. The Oberlin dean of students (Merideth Raimondo) appears to have joined in the protests directly, shouting through a bullhorn and handing out fliers calling Gibson's racist. She claimed she used the bullhorn for 1 minute only and only to tell the students to observe safety precautions. Multiple other witnesses at the trial claimed she did so for a half hour and that she was a direct participant in the events. The jury obviously did not believe her. Also, she denied that she had handed out any fliers, was contradicted by a local reporter who said she had handed one to him, called that reporter a liar, and (at trial, once under oath) later admitted that he was telling the truth that she had handed him a flier knowing him to be a reporter.

7. The college immediately joined in the affair by terminating its long-term contract with Gibson's. A couple of months later, it reinstated that contract. Then, when the Gibson family filed suit, it terminated the contract permanently.

8. The college took the position that the matter would be dropped if Gibson's dropped the shoplifting charge and if it committed in the future to bring all incidents involving students directly to the college before it got the police involved. Gibson's refused to comply with this condition.

9. Gibson's in turn offered to forego any and all legal claims if the college sent out a mass communication stating that Gibson's had not engaged in racist activity and had no history of being racist. The college declined to do this.

10. Gibson's took a huge financial hit as a result of all this, barely managing to stay in business. It had to lay off all of its 12 employees and the family owners continued to operate the business without salary for 2 years.

11. Gibson's sued the college and its dean of students alleging libel, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and interference with business relations.

12. Throughout the trial, the college took the position that it had done nothing wrong, was only protecting the students' right to free speech, and had no responsibility for what happened. It also took the position that Gibson's was worth no more than $35,000 in total value as a business and that such amount should be the maximum awarded in any damages award.

13. The jury award $11.2 million in compensatory damages, $33 million in punitive damages, and also said that Oberlin had to pay Gibson's attorneys' fees. Under state law, there is a 2x cap on punitive damages (2x times the amount of compensatory damages awarded) and thus the punitive award will be set at $22 million. The judge is still determining the attorneys' fees question. All in all, though, the jury basically slammed Oberlin to the max and also awarded major damages against the dean of students.

14. Oberlin sent a mass email to its alumni association essentially saying that the jury disregarded the clear evidence showing it had done nothing wrong and vowing to fight this through appeal. It also formally announced that it will be filing an appeal.

15. Oberlin has had a long-time "townie" vs. "gownie" culture but this far transcends the small tensions that have historically existed.

William Jacobsen at Legal Insurrection has been on this case in great depth from inception, believing it is a case of major significance concerning college activism run amok. Here is a link to his reporting on the original verdict that contains a ton of links to the prior coverage: https://legalinsurrection.com/2019/06/verdict-jury-awards-gi...

The article here is by Jonathan Turley, a distinguished liberal law scholar, who is pretty critical of Oberlin's handling of the case, as I think most people are.

> 14. Oberlin sent a mass email to its alumni association essentially saying that the jury disregarded the clear evidence showing it had done nothing wrong ...

In a move of awesome stupidity, that email was sent out while the case was still in court - just prior to the jury deliberating on the punitive damages.

This is a great summary, and I broadly agree with Jacobsen's take, but also took the time to read the primary source documents that he and others linked to. So, some finesse points:

2-3: I don't know that it's been well established that the student who sparked this incident and later pled out to shoplifting went into the store with the intent to steal. The other narrative presented is that he went in with a fake ID (so clearly had purchasing intent), the ID was spotted, the clerk attempted to confiscate it, and that's when things blew up. It appears undisputed that the student fled the store and was chased by Allyn Gibson, unfortunately resulting in Gibson getting beat down by the student and two friends --- the result was a felony robbery charge, at which point the student had immense incentive to plead out to anything the court would allow him to.

4: It's useful to know that there's a history of problematic interactions between Oberlin (the school) and the Oberlin Police (an unrelated department of the town in which Oberlin resides). That OPD felt the need to escalate a situation isn't dispositive. What we do seem to know is that, excepting an early incident where protesters entered Gibsons Bakery to protest indoors (and then left), the protests were not violent.

7: Oberlin didn't have a contract with Gibsons. They asked their cafeteria supplier to stop sourcing from Gibsons.

12: It's worth pointing out that the college didn't merely take the position that it had done nothing wrong, but also repeatedly in its own legal filings affirmatively supported the protesters claims --- apparently false --- that Allyn Gibson had "violently assaults" an "unarmed student".

Finally: I too have found Legal Insurrection's coverage of this case valuable, but anyone reading it should go in knowing that unlike Turley, L.I. is not "liberal", but rather full-throated conservative. It's always good to keep the agendas of news sources in mind, and that of course goes for L.I. the same way it would for DailyKos or PopeHat.

I think if Oberlin had been smart enough to redirect protest energy towards the Oberlin Police rather than to a private business, this all would have worked out better (and also, not for nothing, have been more just). As it stands, though, I'm shocked Raimondo still has a job; Oberlin's handling of the case was far more clownish than one could perceive from this summary.

Excellent additions - thanks for supplementing/clarifying!

Another note or two:

1. Damages might be reduced on appeal but, if not, this will really sting for Oberlin. Why?

2. Its insurer apparently is denying coverage because the wrongs committed were intentional and that removes them from coverage.

3. The legal fee award approved by the jury is likely tied to a contingent fee arrangement and will likely add as much as $10 million to the final price tag.

Bottom line for the risk to Oberlin: $11.4 million compensatory damages; $22.8 million punitive damages; $10 million attorneys' fees = $44.2 million judgment, an astounding number for something the college could easily have quelled at or near inception for almost nothing. Again, this could be reversed or modified on appeal but who in the world would want to be fighting from that position?

It's an insane situation. I have a generally high opinion of Oberlin as a school (my daughter was accepted there, and would have attended had she not wanted to remain closer to home; several friendly acquaintances are faculty there). I also --- broadly and with varying levels of intensity --- share the prevailing politics of its community. But the school's conduct here seems so simultaneously mendacious and clown-shoed that I can't help but think something's fundamentally screwed up about how it's run. I'm glad Oberlin wasn't closer to Chicago to tempt my daughter last year. I hope they figure stuff out.

Another facet of this story that doesn't seem to be discussed much is that the college is having financial struggles as it is. The grievous mishandling of the event is not helping the financial situation. For more on that, see:



(archives of the above)



How are these people not in jail for kicking a man on the ground?

On top of theft at that.

Possibly, a plea bargain. Plead guilty to X and we won't charge you with Y. It could also just be leniency towards a first offender, independent of the issue of the protests.

From LI's reporting, if I understood correctly, the Gibsons' agreed to drop the assault charges if the accused students would make a statement that the Gibsons' were not racist.

Thanks for this. I hadn't dug deeply into this previously.

Reading this, I'm struck by how fragile our first amendment is that you can be sued for participating in a protest. It sounds like the only things that the university did "wrong" was end a contract and also one of their deans took active part in protesting.

Much of the glee seems to stem from the fact that the speech being expressed in the protest was dumb. I, for one, think dumb speech should be protected.

Multiple school officials were actively participating in the demonization of the business and using their authority to create economic sanctions on the same. I don't see how you can justify their behavior. Especially since Gibson's was an actual victim of a real crime unlike the narrative the school was trying to paint.

There was also a link to another article laying out the evidence of collusion by school administrators to do economic harm to the owners of the bakery. Do you defend that behavior as well?

I don't "justify" saying stupid things. I just care about freedom of speech.

There's another user who made the point that the facts of this case extend to a dean accusing the business of committing a criminal act. Based on those facts, I think there's a much better argument that you could be making rather than arguing that defending the right to say something is the same as defending the underlying stupid comment.

Freedom of speech does does carry with it freedom from the repercussions of libel and lost wages due to those erroneous statements. Now, you can argue the validity of those laws and their impact on the freedom of speech, but they aren't protected under the free speech laws. They have very real specifications and aren't cart blanche to be an asshole without repercussion. Ignorance of the law has never been a defence, and I would hope a college would have understood that.

I think you misread what I wrote because the statements aren't in conflict with one another. I'm saying there are limitations on libel as a result of the First Amendment, not that you can't have any libel laws at all.

Of course, but when you use your position of authority (as a professor would have) as a bully pulpit, to have a call to action (like boycott), it can be argued that damages are justified. I'm actually very pro free speech, and I think the damages in this case are egregious, but there was very much a call to action from a very influential person on a group of people who had limited capabilities (though, not legally, maybe). The precedent is more similar to yelling fire in a crowded movie theater and being responsible for the outcome rather than voicing your political opinions in a town square.... Though, I will admit, when I wrote this first comment I hadn't read far enough down in this thread =)

> The precedent is more similar to yelling fire in a crowded movie theater and being responsible for the outcome rather than voicing your political opinions in a town square

A closer precedent would be yelling "this sucks!" in a crowded theater of a film that in fact is quite good and then calling for people to boycott it on that faulty basis. Mostly joking with this example, but it kinda gets to where we disagree too.

Again, you’re missing how exceedingly narrow a defamation claim must be, and how the Oberlin dean threaded the needle tightly to fit into the requirements.

A defamation claim must be premised on a (stated or unstated) false assertion of fact. Pure opinions are not covered: http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/opinion-and-fair-comment-pri.... Whether a movie is good or bad is a pure opinion—it cannot be falsified and cannot be the basis of a defamation claim. Arguably, whether someone is racist is an opinion too, although on the flip side it generally carries the connotation that the conclusion is based on actual conduct and can be considered an assertion about these (unstated) facts.

But whether someone has a “long history of racial profiling,” as the Oberlin dean asserted, is a factual assertion about past events. It’s falsifiable, and was proven false at trial.

Defamation has long been deemed to be speech not protected by the first amendment. Because of the risk to freedom of expression, such claims have been limited in numerous ways, and are exceedingly difficult to win. But where a plaintiff does manage to overcome those hurdles, it is not an indicator of the fragility of the first amendment for the defamation claim to actually succeed. It’s simply applying well defined outer limits to freedom of expression, no different than ones for fraud, false advertising, and other malicious conduct that incidentally involves speech.

Two points @grellas mentioned are key.

First, this case involves falsehoods. Factually untrue assertions are generally outside the scope of protected speech: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/lying.h.... (Otherwise, the first amendment would swallow claims for fraud, false advertising, etc). This case, moreover, doesn’t fit the scenarios where false statements can be protected expression, such as hyperbole or satire.

Second, the speech was against a private party. The first amendment restrictions on defamation claims are less stringent when it comes to private parties than to the government, politicians, or public figures. In particular, where defamatory speech turns out to be false, it might still be protected by the first amendment if it was directed to a public figure and the false statements were not made recklessly or knowingly. But if a private party is involved, that additional layer of protection doesn’t exist. (The theory being that there is a greater interest on making statements about public figures, where sometimes you might get the facts wrong, than with private figures.)

I’m a first amendment extremist, but a defamation claim here doesn’t strike me as problematic any more than a prosecution for fraud. There is no legitimate expressive value in spreading demonstrable falsehoods about a private party. Nor is there a slippery slope. The key elements of private party versus public figure, and demonstrably false versus possibly true statements are bright line limits that have long served us well.

The page you've cited here appears to claim the opposite of what you're claiming, itself citing multiple cases in which the Supreme Court found factually untrue statements firmly inside the scope of protected speech. The counterexamples you're providing are motivated untrue assertions in which speech is part of a broader pattern of action (in these cases, to unjustly enrich the speaker; in others, to unjustly damage someone disfavored by the speaker).

Not that I disagree at all with what you're saying about defamation! But the idea that lies are unprotected speech seems like a very dangerous slippery slope. Like, Singapore would claim to support "free speech" with that (gigantic) exception.

Thank you for being the first person to agree with my fundamental point that there are actual implications to the first amendment when it comes to libel laws.

I'd love to hear any of the actual false statements ISSUED BY THE UNIVERSITY OR ITS STAFF. I relied on the so far uncontested statement of facts offered by OP. If those facts are wrong I'd be thrilled to revisit my position.

A university dean admitted to passing out a flyer that falsely stated that the Oberlin student had been assaulted: https://legalinsurrection.com/2019/05/gibsons-bakery-v-oberl.... A police officer testified that the Oberlin students had assaulted the bakery employee, not the other way around. The flyer also stated that the bakery had a long history of racial profiling. But at trial the dean admitted that she didn’t know whether that was true. Numerous witnesses testified it was false.

A high ranking university employee handed out a flyer containing damaging assertions of fact, with the intent that people believe and act upon those assertions, and at trial offered nothing to suggest she had even a good faith belief that those assertions were true. That’s not an exercise of free expression.

The assault (a crime!) claim on the flier is REALLY bad for the college. It makes me feel much better about the ruling, as much as I still disagree it's with a LOT less force now.

(False accusations of racism or racial profiling, on the other hand, should absolutely be protected.)

Edit: One thing I'd add. Even though our positions on this individual case are in opposition, we actually agree about the First Amendment issues far more than you do with people who are criticizing me for thinking the Constitution has any implications on libel law.

What about false accusations of pedophilia? Why is one kind of falsehood protected and another not?

I think what you’re really concerned about is when people, in good faith, level an accusation of racism or racial profiling that turns out to be debatable or wrong. They shouldn’t be prosecuted. But that’s not what happened here. It’s not a high hurdle to show that an accusation of racism or racial profiling is not at least colorably true. Had the university done so, it likely would have gotten off the hook. They could have, for example, pointed to a suspicious pattern of calling the police. The university didn’t even try to do that.

I think the law is correct here. It’s one thing to protect expression made in good faith that turns out to be wrong. That’s important to avoid chilling effects. It’s another thing entirely to protect expression where there is not even a good faith basis to believe that the allegations are true.

An accusation of pedophilia is unprotected because accusations of crime are considered, at law, to be intrinsically damaging. Racism (and, to some extent, racial profiling) is not against the law: I believe it's perfectly legal to stop only black shoppers for shoplifting, for instance (so long as they're actually shoplifting), even though 60+% of shoplifters in Oberlin appear not to be black.

Here, I wonder whether it's not the speech that got the university in trouble so much as the concerted and diligent effort to harm Gibson's business through multiple means.

I deleted my first reply because I think you're being disingenuous with this comparison. I think a better comparison is if I call someone a liar when speaking broadly about the person. Even if they have a documented history of telling the truth and I don't have a single lie, I think that's protected.

> It’s one thing to protect expression made in good faith that turns out to be wrong. That’s important to avoid chilling effects.

I agree with this strongly.

Edit: Also, I think, given you're a lawyer, you'd agree with me that a client of yours is on much safer ground when the thing they're accusing somebody of is about their general character rather than a crime. (Not that you'd have given your approval on the flyer with just that one claim struck out.)

The Oberlin dean didn’t just say the bakery was “racist,” she said they had a “long history of racial profiling.” That’s a critical distinction. The first amendment doesn’t directly protect falsehoods. But to give wide berth for free expression, we have carved out all these situations where even a false assertion will be protected: parody, hyperbole, opinions, assertions made based on good faith investigation, etc. If the Oberlin dean had, for example, said the bakery was racist, based on the fact that the bakery failed to consider that calling the police on a black student would subject the student to far graver consequences than under identical circumstances where the student was white, that would arguably be a non-falsifiable opinion, or a statement about someone’s “general character.”

But she went beyond expressing an arguable opinion. Saying that someone has “a long history racial profiling” is an assertion that a pattern of concrete events have taken place. It’s not an assertion about someone’s “general character.” It’s falsifiable. Moreover, the dean couldn’t even construct a fig leaf, some post hoc rationalization, to defend that assertion. She all but admitted she had tried to destroy someone’s business based on the equivalent of a “fake news” Facebook post.

Whether someone is a victim of assault or rightfully practiced self-defense is often a difficult question dependent on the states of mind of the people involved in a volatile situation, remembered through the veil of faulty human memories. Details like who used force first are pretty much impossible to determine without a video recording. Of course, police officers are as fallible as anyone else. Defamation requires a willful disregard for truth, and I have a hard time believing that “they committed assault” would be defamation when “they got in a fight” is accurate.

For what it’s worth, I consider myself a liberal, and I went to a liberal arts college cut from the same cloth as Oberlin and wrote anonymous posts debating what I perceived as the excesses of liberal campus activists.

Given that students in question plead guilty, it seems quite plausible that "willful disregard for the truth" is exactly what happened here.

It's a good thing innocent people have never pled guilty before.

Yeah, this clearly was the case here!! Although even Oberlin does not seem to be making that claim.

I don't know if you caught that. But for me, "they pled guilty!" is meaningless. People are coerced into that all the time. So speaking generally, to those who think saying that is shorthand for winning an argument, it's quite silly.

In general it may not mean much. People do plead guilty even when they aren't, for many reasons, and even more so with minorities. In this specific case though we're talking Oberlin students, not some poor kids from the ghetto, already making this less likely, and even worse, while I would not necessarily expect rioting progressive students to make any sort of logical and factual argument, I would expect better from the administration. But interestingly, they also never presented anything based on logic, let alone facts, and never even made the claim that the assailants were coerced to plead guilty, witnesses bribed, investigations botched. They just took the narrative that fits with their ideological view and ran away with it, facts be damned.

There was no allegation that the Oberlin student acted in self-defense. As to the guilty plea, there are indeed lots of people who plead guilty to crimes they did not commit. It’s a country of 300 million people—in absolute terms, there are lots of people who do any given thing. But in percentage terms, any given guilty plea is likely the result of overwhelming evidence of guilt.

I love how this was quite literally just litigated yet you're here assuming the entire legal process for this case was a sham.

1. Legal process isn't necessarily over

2. I did not call it any of it a sham, let alone "the entire legal process." No need to make things up.

3. People should be encouraged to think for themselves!

> Thank you for being the first person to agree with my fundamental point that there are actual implications to the first amendment when it comes to libel laws.

He's not the first - the reason I didn't bring it up in my reply was that I agree with it. Libel (and true threats, and incitement to imminent lawless action) absolutely are limits on the first amendment and free speech. They're limits I, even as a free speech advocate/extremist, happen to agree with, but they are limits.

It's funny. We're disagreeing so strongly here but we fundamentally are so much in closer position here than the people downvoting me and most of the folks disagreeing with me because I even brought up the First Amendment to begin with.

There's a line between dumb speech and libel. The faculty members were informed of the facts of the case, yet continued their counterfactual accusations of the bakery, and used the college to put severe economic pressure on the bakery.

If that doesn't qualify as libel, what does? That it was done as part of a protest is orthogonal.

I'm going based on OPs description, which nobody on either side of the debate seems to object to. A different list of facts could convince me of something different, certainly.

What were the libelous comments by the college, specifically? I looked at the link provided and didn't see any actual comments from the flyer or dean of student's speech.

Reading the article, several of the college faculty claimed the bakery's actions were racist, for which they had no evidence, and plenty of evidence against.

"Students, professors and administrators held protests, charging that the bakery was racist and had profiled the three students."

Literal comments or the flyer would be better, I agree, but it doesn't look like anyone is objecting to this description of the content of the protests.

I don't think simply calling somebody "racist" should EVER be libel. Even when inaccurate. But hey, that's me and I'm a free speech supporter.

>I don't think simply calling somebody "racist" should EVER be libel. Even when inaccurate.

Do you also believe that calling somebody a "serial sexual harrasser" should never be libel, even when inaccurate?

"Sexual predator"?

>I don't think simply calling somebody "racist" should EVER be libel. Even when inaccurate.

So, what is your definition for libel? As it doesn't appear to be the same one in common usage. I am massively in favour of free speech, but I suspect even Voltaire would want some method of restitution to be available should people be spreading lies about him around town.

> spreading lies about him around town

Whether something is libel and unprotected would obviously depend on the lie. We seem to agree about that so I'm not sure what you're claiming I believe.

I actually think that it depends pretty much completely on the context. There is no list of phrases that are innocent or malicious in and of themselves. Something that can seem innoccuous in most situations can be a matter of life or death in others. So no, I don't think we seem to agree. And could you answer the question rather than dancing around it?

What about calling someone a pedophile? Should that also not be libel?

And before you claim it's different because being a pedophile is a crime - it's not a crime. Acting on it is. Just how being racist isn't a crime, but refusing to serve customers based on race is.

What about "jerk?" Should that be libel if there's no evidence the person is a jerk?

There can't be, because "jerk" is a subjective assessment, and defamation requires a statement of fact. The "falsifiability" rubric Rayiner has been using is helpful. I'm not a lawyer, but I read lots of defamation lawyers, and note that you can further extend the requirements for defamation:

* It's (apparently, in many circumstances, consult lawyer) not defamation to relate your interpretation of facts already on the record. In other words, it's often not defamation if you're simply wrong about something, so long as you're not relating your wrongness in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to think you're authoritative for your claim. "Based on a bunch of stuff I read in the paper, Gibson's has a history of racial profiling" might be a much safer thing to say than "as faculty and administrators of Oberlin College I'm informing you that Gibson's has a history of racial profiling".

* If the injured party is a "public figure", you have to do more than prove a falsifiable false statement that causes actual injury; you also have to prove malicious intent, meaning that the speaker knows that what they're saying is false, and is saying it specifically in order to harm someone.

> you also have to prove malicious intent, meaning that the speaker knows that what they're saying is false, and is saying it specifically in order to harm someone.

I think you're talking about "actual malice" which as I understand it does not require a particular intent. It is just that you know the statement is false (or have reckless disregard for whether it is false or not). It doesn't matter why you said it.

See this is why people call out "not a lawyer" on message board threads; you're right, "actual malice" is apparently knowledge of falsehood or reckless disregard for the truth.

That's a good point. The difference is that 'jerk' is on its face a subjective assessment, an opinion, while 'racist' is less so. I have a feeling there's supreme court precedent drawing a more exact line.

Of course, devoid of context, 'racist' is pretty subjective as well. I'm guessing if the statements had been left sufficiently ambiguous, they might have gotten away with it. But they weren't - they accused them of a very specific racism, and demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth.

From a quick search, looks like in cases such as these, the standard would be that the statements are made with 'actual malice' [1].

Edit: I noticed you asked what the law should be, not what it is. I guess I'm not so sure of the answer, but I'd venture that statements made with 'actual malice' should be included in libel.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_statements_of_fact#Priva...

> I don't think simply calling somebody "racist" should EVER be libel. Even when inaccurate.

You're a racist.

Just exercising free speech over here, am I doing this right?

Yep. Even if I had your name, I wouldn't sue! And if I did, I'd hope that it'd get laughed out of court.

Now imagine a world where I could win. For tens of millions of dollars. That should scare you. Thanks for making my point.

It would suck to live in a world where people can destroy your life by spreading lies about you, and you have no recourse. That's not the world we live in. What benefits do you think free-for-all slander and libel would give society exactly?

I think the idea is that the accusation of racism isn't really a concrete, well-defined concept that can be falsified: in terms of specificity, its closer to calling someone a dumbass or a butthead than it is to calling them eg a shoplifter; the former isn't legally actionable (right? Perhaps I'm wrong here), but the latter is concrete enough to be.

I'm not sure if I agree with the gp commenter, but it doesn't seem to be a particularly unreasonable opinion to hold.

I'll answer your question but I hope you answer mine: Do you think I should be able to successfully sue you for millions of dollars if you had SERIOUSLY just called me a racist? If not, we're closer in viewpoint than you want to admit.

Now to your question:

> What benefits do you think free-for-all slander and libel would give society exactly?

I DON'T favor "free-for-all" slander or libel. But to the extent that I draw the line differently from you, the benefit to society would be that society gets to debate what exactly it means to be racist and hopefully that open debate leads to something useful. I like the idea that you combat speech with more speech because I think it leads to better outcomes for all of us. I don't think it's helpful to have people live in fear of saying anything controversial.

> Do you think I should be able to successfully sue you for millions of dollars if you had SERIOUSLY just called me a racist?

If I damage you with lies in word or in print, you are entitled to be made whole. If I lied about you and it cost you millions of dollars as a result, yes, you should be allowed to sue me to get those millions back.

What problem do you have with this system?

Edit: and if the damages were done with malice, society is absolutely entitled to add punishment on top of correcting the harm that brought the case to court.

> What problem do you have with this system?

I think people define "racist" differently. Some see it in terms of systems. Some people think calling out racism is itself racist. Some view certain types of jokes as being a sign of being racist. There are as many definitions of the term as there are people.

I have repeatedly mentioned there are limits, but my problem with the system you laid out (which I'd argue is far more extreme than what was decided in this case) is that I'm a free speech guy who thinks we're better off when we can discuss issues openly.

> I'm a free speech guy who thinks we're better off when we can discuss issues openly.

You can already do this. You just can't harm people with your speech and expect no consequences.

Also, nobody gets sued for libel over honest debate. They do, however, face social repercussions for taking positions out of line with society's values. Freedom of speech isn't freedom from consequences.

You just argued below that if I had bad economic impact based on the FACT that you called me a racist that I should be able to sue you over this very honest debate and win. You've taken a very extreme position here. At least one person, you, are arguing this. So don't say "nobody."

That's not an extreme position, it's the law of the land and has been for a long time. It's basic civil law that if you harm someone they can take you to court to be made whole. Civilization is sort of built on this concept.

The thing here is that you're not being harmed by rhetoric. If you were, you'd have a case.

> So if Eli Cash was my actual name (rather than a Royal Tenenbaums character), and if I didn't get a job because the employer googled my name and your claim came up..? You really think I'd have a real case?

Would a reasonable person read my post in context and somehow walk away believing you were a racist? You know they wouldn't.

> If you were, you'd have a case.

So if Eli Cash was my actual name (rather than a Royal Tenenbaums character), and if I didn't get a job because the employer googled my name and your claim came up..? You really think I'd have a real case?

I guess if we still disagree nothing can be done about that. We've both made our points.

No need to imagine. There are countries where you would win.

You cited NYT v Sullivan in several places in this thread. What facts lead to you weigh to come to the conclusion that the Gibsons are public figures?

Maybe you have some intellectual humility and give deference to the judge and jury that heard all the facts rather than declaring them to be wrong based on a summary of a summary.

> public figures

The college argued they were (limited purpose) public figures. The judge disagreed, clearly. I was making a point that to argue there are no First Amendment implications to libel laws is so far from established interpretations of the Constitution that it should give people who care about free expression pause.

> based on a summary of a summary

Are you disputing the summary? If so, which parts? I don't agree that judges and juries are always right and we should not form our own opinions, if that's what you're implying.

Do you think simply calling somebody racist, even when wrong, should be protected by the first amendment? My bet is that you do. And so this comes down to the set of facts. If you have contrary sets of facts, let's hear them!

The case file is available for public inspection at Lorain County Clerk of Courts, 225 Court Street, First Floor, Elyria, OH 44035.


The argument that they're public figures is available online in PDF form, so you have even LESS of an excuse to not have read it or even seemingly to have been AWARE of it.

You can't be sued for participating in a protest, the lawsuit against the dean was for libel and targeted harassment, particularly from a position of power.

What does this have to do with the first amendment? It doesn't protect individuals from lawsuits by other individuals for civil issues.

There are limits to libel laws as a result of the First Amendment. I understand your confusion/question, but that's why I bring it up -- there's a lot of disagreement over how to interpret these speech protections and lots of people weigh the issues involved differently. From OP's description at least, it's a bad ruling for people who care deeply about freedom of expression.

Sadly, most people only care about scoring points against those they disagree with politically. Even at the cost of these freedoms.

There's no confusion here. The amendment is a restriction on government, not individuals suing. Aside from that, not everyone who cares deeply about freedom of expression would agree that this ruling is bad in that context.

This is incorrect. The restrictions on government INCUDE its ability to create libel laws:


Any individual suing in civil court is using the apparatus of the government in order to enforce controls on speech. This is settled law - the alternative is that the government can control speech through allowing private parties to sue over speech in civil court. Take, for example, a law that would allow school shooting victims to sue people who made violent video games that the school shooter played. While this is not direct suppression of free speech rights to make violent video games, it is definitely using the apparatus of the government to suppress protected speech.

It seems to me that the real issue is the college itself claimed that the bakery was racist. It was more about libel and slander then an actual protest. Throw in the fact that the college encouraged students to not go to the establishment... This isn't a first amendment issue.

If libel laws now allow you to successfully sue for tens of millions of dollars because you falsely accuse somebody of being a racist, that's a sad day for freedom of speech. The impact would be truly chilling on national debate.

As I stated elsewhere, there are absolutely limits to libel laws based on Constitutional issues as decided in NYT v Sullivan. I wish people were arguing that based on the facts of this case, not to worry. Instead what I'm hearing from comments like yours is that calling somebody racist and urging a boycott based on it should be enough, just because the underlying accusation is wrongheaded.

To me, the most important factor in this case is that after the protests, etc the Bakery first asked the University to simply retract it's claims that it was racist and had a history of racism. The University refused, despite having no proof of it's claims, which shows bad faith at least. Another fact that goes to bad faith are the lies they made on the stand, refusing to take responsibility for their actions. If you're reading was correct, and it was an honest mistake, then the University could have and should have corrected it's statement, and should not have lied on the stand.

Another point you make here doesn't make sense: this isn't about "national debate". This is, roughly, about one agent harming another agent with a set of lies designed to harm. If this case involved a newspaper editor getting sued for libel because he called a politician a liar, then yes, you might have a point. But it isn't.

I agree with you about things that make their case weaker.

I would disagree if you're claiming that the national debate about racism only applies to newspapers talking about politicians. There's a HUGELY IMPORTANT debate in the culture generally about racism that I'd argue just as important if not moreso.

(That said, from a legal standpoint it's obviously true that a politician is a clearer-cut case of a public figure. That obviously matters when judging the merits. But you seemed to be suggesting that talking about this case in terms of the national debate around racism is irrelevant.)

Libel is not protected by the First Amendment. It never has been. It ought not to be.

This was libel... There was an intentional effort by the college to smear the bakery as racist and hurt their business. What does this have to do with the First Amendment?


Libel absolutely has First Amendment limits. I think you can debate whether the facts of the case meet those limits, but to claim there's no Constitutional issues at stake is a pretty extreme argument to make.

Libel has never been protected speech.

The merits of the case did not seem to bother Oberlin officials or student protesters. Dean of students Meredith Raimondo reportedly joined the massive protests and even handed out a flier denouncing the bakery as a racist business.

Without knowing the details of the case, it's hard to determine who's truly at fault here. Even so, given that the dean herself apparently chastised a dissenting staffer who advocated for the bakery (“F* ROGER COPELAND”), it's a bit disconcerting to think that this is someone who is charged with the well-being of every student on campus.

It's one thing to encourage student activism, but if these universities are teaching students to throw empathy, logic and reason to the wind, they are only doing them a disservice.

Short of it was that a student was confronted about shop lifting a bottle of wine, two other students with them assaulted the shop owner/employee when they were confronted about it. All the students admitted guilt for the shop lifting of a bottle of wine and the assault. The university still pressed and encouraged the protests saying they were only targeted because of their race. It should be worth mentioning that the bakery has been a family business for over 100 years and at that point a community feature, and the defense argued the multi employee bakery was a business worth only 35k and so therefore, no sizable damage to its reputation was done. The school, with an endowment of 887 million, sent a mass email to the campus and alumni out after the verdict but before the full damages could be determined basically saying the jury were idiots in so many words for ruling against the college and sticking to their guns.

It's all mixed up but when I hear that it was a 100 year family owned business the likely hood it is racist goes way up to me. I can't say for sure but the fact it's some kind of community staple hardly protects it from accusations of racism.

Remember: throwing the book at black shoplifters vs slaps on the wrist for white is definitely a key feature of racism.

I don't disagree. But, at a time when the cost/benefit ratio of college is challenged every day in popular discourse, maybe colleges have no choice but to embrace "The customer is always right" as a fundamental value.

The difference here is that the college appears to have actively taken part in the protests, as opposed to merely letting them happen.

Yeah, and that's how a college can really show some hustle and outcompete. I mean, imagine an idealistic 12th grader with a social justice bent. Does she choose a college that merely pays lip service to her righteous values, or does she choose one that jumps right into the trenches alongside her, blasting a megaphone and waving a giant sign?

College administrators always have the option of doing the right thing, even when it impacts revenue.

I saw it happen first hand once at Guilford College, another small liberal arts college. There was an incident between a group of drunken football students and some kids that were Arabic. The school didn't do its part to encourage rational and cool heads until all the facts were in and there were mobs looking for football players, even those not involved. It wasn't safe for them so had to leave campus. Once the facts were in the football players had medical evidence of being assaulted and punched with a hand wrapped with a belt which conflicted with the students story of just being jumped (if you have time to take off your belt and wrap it around your hand, you have time to escape or deescalate). Other eye witness statements lined up that both parties were drinking (the other students had been on their way to the club). In the end it seemed like the both parties were at fault but the ones claiming victim status were the original antagonizers and lost the fight so cried foul. In either case, there were calls to disband the football team and athletic program as a result of the actions of a few students. No where was the college saying wait for all the evidence to be presented, rather than going on the word of one side before reacting. They allowed the students to take over effectively and no students who encouraged the mob were ever disciplined afterwards for libel. It's a common practice at these schools to assume guilt because of race (they're white), which is just as unjust as the crimes in the past. The hard standard is to not involve mass mob or protest until evidence is provided. If schools are supposed to be institutions of higher learning and thought, they should be encouraging students to be impartial and consider all evidence and act on that and not hearsay.

Free speech standards in the US requires you have evidence to back up what you're saying if you're going to speak negatively of someone, even more so if you're going to take action against them, colleges should be encouraging that standard and rational thought over emotional reaction.

>Free speech standards in the US requires you have evidence to back up what you're saying if you're going to speak negatively of someone

You're free to speak negatively of people, you just can't damage someone's reputation by spreading false facts. I'm allowed to call my neighbor a poopyhead or the like, but I can't tell people that he sexually molests children.

Debate is fine, lively discussion is fine, talking negatively about people is fine. What crosses the line is when you go after someone's livelihood or ability to live in peace. That's really what this case is about - Oberlin college administrators got into a disagreement with a local bakery, so they tried to use their clout and influence to run them out of business. Juries really do not approve of that sort of behavior.

This better clarifies what I meant, I wasn't clear enough in how I stated it. I meant the student body were spreading false statements (facts) about the football player's actions and what was said which damaged their reputation.

> I'm allowed to call my neighbor a poopyhead or the like

I just want to point out that I'm tickled by the fact that I made a point with the exact same term upthread, a moment before coming across your comment. I like your style

> I'm allowed to call my neighbor a poopyhead or the like, but I can't tell people that he sexually molests children.

"Racist" is more in the category of the former than the latter. The "assault" allegation in the flier handed out, in part, by a dean is admittedly more of a gray area than either of your examples.

> "Racist" is more in the category of the former than the latter.

Depends on how likely you are to be fired from you job if you are accused.

The problem here is an insulation from consequences. After costing their employer $33 million dollars, plus legal fees, will the libelers be fired? I'd guess not.

Ironically this is the same root cause for overuse of force by police officers that is alluded to in the article as a problem these university employees were concerned about. Police officers are also far too insulted from consequences and generally keep their jobs even after causing their employers (i.e. us) millions of dollars in lawsuit damages.

The moral of the story is that all institutions should have effective mechanisms for accountability. Insulate employees too much and at least some will surely run amok.

Handy tip, you probably don't want to say a local, family-owned business that dates back to the 1800's is only worth $35,000. It comes off as elitist and hometown juries hate elitist with a passion.

Best coverage was Legal Insurrection since they actually had people in the courtroom: https://legalinsurrection.com/2019/06/oberlin-college-hit-wi... (summary of coverage at bottom of article)

I'll heartily endorse Legal Insurrection's coverage, but with the caveat that they've got a bone to pick against "social justice" and leftist campus activism. It doesn't seem to get in the way of them reporting all the relevant facts in a fair way.

interesting. opposition to "social justice" signals an opposition to fairness and equality, and theoretically should be rare.

i wonder if it's the strain of opposition that sees it as zero-sum and resists (i.e., "if things get fairer for the disadvantaged, then i, as an advantaged person, must necessarily lose something")?

or the strain that resists social normalization (e.g., i should be free to offend and belittle others)?

or something else?

even if everyone gains from growing the pie, the desire for relative status seems more powerful than our desire for fairness and equality unfortunately.

Everyone is all for fairness and equality but, as is becoming increasingly clear, "social justice" as a movement has little, if anything, to do with actual fairness or equality. Oberlin College's misbehavior may be at the extremum but it is far from the only example of this.

Even on as pro-left a site as HN, people are realizing that this movement is more of a problem than a force for good and that one can be a liberal without necessarily being a progressive and vice-versa.

but what is "the movement"? the situation here seems like small-time stupidity and jerkiness (of behavior), not a movement.

just to note, group-labeling people tends to undermine openness and short-circuits revelation, so i'd like to avoid that (especially dichotomies like left-right and liberal-conservative).


I'll bite - how the hell can it be revanchist in even the worst sorts of strawman? Revanchism is an ideology about reclaiming all territorial losses. The always negative outcome claim is questionable - even considering that it in order for it to be successful by definition they need overwhelming might to reclaim to hold it and it will impair peace for lesser processes. If massively and hopelessly overpowered like say a hypothetical small subset of radicals in the Cherokee Nation proposing to annex large sections of the United States it can pretty safely be declared 'long lost cause'.

That isn't really applicable to anything "Social Justice" - even metaphorically. The closest thing for revauncism would be found in white supremacists and chauvinists who believe they should have complete domain over society by being sole holders of rights or 'rights' over other people.

And even then that is a metaphor confused and stretched so thin that it is akin to thinking all alcohol should be kept far away from national borders for fear that if spilled it could erase the lines because it could do so to ink on a map.

The social justice movement was responsible for the general expectation in polite society to not misgender trans people, so it's clearly had material benefits. This is not to say that there aren't extreme elements, but shifting the center of gravity of society to a fairer place does involve some extreme elements.

It's like how RMS is the crazy extremist free software guy, and that gives the rest of us cover to share our or our employers' code freely with the world.

Qualifying “justice” makes it not justice. Is any student at Oberlin substantially “disadvantaged” or are they playacting a story they tell themselves?

The situation reminds me of the part in Foster-Wallace’s address to Kenyon college where he described his default negative mindset toward folks who drive gas guzzling SUVs. The audience hoots and applauds the viewpoint and Foster-Wallace has to stop them saying no, no, my point is to break out of that mindset. Similarly to the Kenyon crowd, my guess is that the Oberlin crowd didn’t pause a moment to step out of their default mindset and realize that their pursuit of “social justice” drove them to injustice.

Best listened to rather than read:


Opposition to "social justice" typically signals that one does not believe that "social justice" equates to fairness and equality.

>opposition to "social justice" signals an opposition to fairness and equality,

That's like a pro-lifer wondering how anyone could be against "life," or a communist wondering why anybody would be against the proletariat, or a capitalist wondering why anybody would be against freedom. You have to go beyond the dictionary definition of the word, and beyond the most abstract and noble stated goals of the movement, to understand why anyone would be against anything.

There is a form of the SJW movement that eschews “Liberalism” as basically being nothing more then the representation of the power of the oppressor rather then being a bedrock set of principles necessary for democracy and civil society. They have been vocal in demanding that those that would impress by any means (including speech) be suppressed and de-platformed or “canceled“. The systems that protect viewpoints that diverge or protect oppressors are must be removed. You see this not only with speech, but also things as basic as right to consul, right to face your accuser, right to a fair and speed trial - Under title 9 at college.

It’s basically the same authoritarianism that hard core Trump fans embrace, but on the left.

Not that I disagree with you (quite the opposite) but, please, let's not use that three letter acronym. It's needlessly provocative and is likely to derail the discussion.

most people would agree that authoritarianism is bad, and it's infections are certainly not bounded by the limits of one political party or one poltical ideology.

so why not peel apart oppressive behavior from social justice and just denounce that by itself? why does it need to be lumped in with social justice?

Leonard French had a good live stream yesterday going through everything too. Lawful Masses on YouTube for those interested.

Hopefully, this judgment encourages colleges to reassert educating students in critical thinking and thoughtful societal engagement -- not pandering to students, nor indulging faculty/administrators who are doing the opposite of their jobs.

Oberlin was acting totally irresponsibly.

I'm glad for the damages. I hope this sends a chilling message to universities-- spend your time and efforts on providing the best education possible. Leave toxic politics in the past. Education should be the primary reason for existence, by far.

I've heard/read about similar situations recently where a black person is caught committing a crime and people protest the establishment for racism. At a vintage store in Brooklyn, a black woman was caught shoplifting and arrested. Then a group of people started protesting the store.

Really I think the issue isn't activism per say but how they are doing it - demagoguic and tribalistic instead of even a coherent philosophy or let alone a logical one. There is a lack of reflection before or after for actions and just concern about how they feel.

It is like you see your car is headed towards a ditch and you step on the gas.

Quite amazed that such poor judgement was exercised throughout this incident - from deans and upper level admins no less - how out of touch with reality can someone be?

Oberlin is an extreme case, even among other small, liberal arts colleges.

I said “an” extreme case. Take it easy, Francis.

I wish I shared your optimism.

I am a grad student leaving university soon enough, and this does not surprise me at all.

Especially at elite universities, there is this interesting phenomenon of mostly upper middle class white women from on average the most privileged upbringings in the western hemisphere arriving at a university they (anyone) could only attend by incredible privilege and luck. Yet they arrive fully convinced they have been held back by the patriarchy their entire lives. Same for other groups and their pet causes.

They find no apparent contradiction at being the most privileged of their generation (speaking of Harvard, Oxbridge, Stanford here), yet the smaller and local the cause, the more vicious the activism. Someone they disagree with dare speak on campus? Violence, trauma, discrimination, hate.

Getting arrested for taking off a veil in Iran? Genocide? Consumerism destroying the planet? Yawn.

I often see people on hn saying this is all blown out of proportion and a small vocal minority but when you talk to undergrads these days, you will realize these beliefs are not just a handful of people but carry weight across the student population.

Not least because opposition is shamed into silence. University admins are usually easily cowed submission on these causes, mostly because it does not cost them anything to uninvite/fire someone.

> I often see people on hn saying this is all blown out of proportion and a small vocal minority but when you talk to undergrads these days, you will realize these beliefs are not just a handful of people but carry weight across the student population.

This may have to do with the student population because I teach undergrads at a community college and I have recently taught at a liberal arts college and find this really is blown out of proportion. When I try to talk to them about media literacy most (not all of course but most) say they never read the news and don't follow current events.

>They find no apparent contradiction at being the most privileged of their generation (speaking of Harvard, Oxbridge, Stanford here), yet the smaller and local the cause, the more vicious the activism. Someone they disagree with dare speak on campus? Violence, trauma, discrimination, hate.

>Getting arrested for taking off a veil in Iran? Genocide? Consumerism destroying the planet? Yawn.

This is probably because they feel they can have an impact on local causes but can't do anything about international issues. What are they supposed to do about genocide in another country?

This is a fair point - the local cause is the one more accessible. Here is a counterpoint:

If you exalt a local event like the one in the original post (an arrest for a theft), or a speaker from the opposite political spectrum to terms like 'violence, hate speech, traumatizing' (words you will find in student newspapers and activism here), what is left for real events of actual drastic impact to society and the lives of others?

This kind of activism is a concept inflation that is tearing societies apart from both ends. An interesting article on this:


Quillette isn't a reputable source. Particularly in this area they specifically are well known to be advancing a "leftwing colleges are terrible" narrative.

It seems to be proportional to class in my experience. The more privileged a student is, the more outspoken they are when criticizing what they perceive to be injustices holding them back.

If we are being charitable, perhaps this is because the more privileged students have fewer repercussions from society to fear?

I find your narrative plausible, but I wish I had good quantitative data about the generalizations / trends you mention.

Otherwise it's hard to decide how much weight to give your generalizations.

From my own experience, no, at the top universities the upper middle class demographic is far more concerned about lining up high paying jobs, networking, and/or working on their general social status than any sort of political activism at all. The activism comes from other groups, if even then.

Maybe at small liberal arts colleges or less elite institutions your viewpoint might be true, but I can't speak for that.

Just to clarify, I have spent the better part of the last decade at one of the institutions in my response. I have seen generations of students come and go. Your experience may differ but at least where I am, the qualitative change is this: earlier this decade, it's been really only small groups.

Now, with students born after 2000 and having grown up fully immersed in social media being on campus, what would have been relatively niche wokeness in 2010 is 'common sense' for many. Including extremely low tolerance for view point diversity.

Do you have any sources to back up a reduced tolerance for viewpoint diversity, or is it just that their Overton window has shifted away from yours?

e.g. would they tolerate (even if they didn't fully agree with it) things on the extreme but opposite end of various political axis from you that you would consider beyond the pale, and vice versa?

From your perspective what seems like a narrowing of viewpoint diversity could seem like a blossoming to someone diametrically opposed to you, because each sees the subtler distinctions between factions in their own comfort zone.

Reading this I can't help but wonder where people graduating from Oberlin get jobs. Maybe as political campaign people or marketing or something?

Just picturing someone walking into a large cement plan for an interview. "Why yes, I do believe I can pull this company into the black within 3 quarters. As you see I have a degree from Oberlin college...".

Point being, graduating from there seems it could be not a positive signal but rather a huge red flag for any company engaged in productive pursuits.

Like the person has been pre-trained to be aggrieved and look for issues and possibly sue over the smallest of slights. At least that's what would cross my mind as an interviewer.

Plenty of Oberlin alumni (including me) are appalled at how Oberlin is handling this situation.

Current students as well.

Disclaimer: My kid got accepted at Oberlin, but instead chose a large state university.

Our perception through the process of researching many colleges, was that the SLACs (small liberal arts colleges) tended to be relatively weak in subjects that tend to lead directly to employment, and that students in those subjects expected to attend graduate school by default. My kid expects to attend grad school, so that's one data point, but I also saw it when I was in grad school. A disproportionate number of my classmates were from SLACs, including myself.

It might not be too much of a stretch to say that the SLACs are feeders for graduate schools. Once you have a graduate degree, your choice of undergraduate college is water under the bridge, though the loans might not be.

... entry level new graduates don't go into interviews making pitches about how they'll impact revenue numbers. Things like that come a decade or more later, after they have learned a whole bunch of stuff about their chosen field and forgotten most of what they thought they knew in school. That's pretty much the whole point of that decade of experience.

I'm always confused by this desire to judge entry level young people as if they are experienced mid career professionals.

> Especially at elite universities, there is this interesting phenomenon of mostly upper middle class white women from on average the most privileged upbringings in the western hemisphere arriving at a university they (anyone) could only attend by incredible privilege and luck. Yet they arrive fully convinced they have been held back by the patriarchy their entire lives. Same for other groups and their pet causes.

This does not have to be a contradiction.

1. If you come from a wealthy family, attending a prestigious university might be par for the course instead of an incredible privilege; you can still be "held back by the patriarchy" (no sarcasm intended). The two things can work in orthogonal ways.

2. They might realize they are privileged and are leveraging their position in an attempt to help others up, i.e. by raising/forcing awareness, a valid thing to do. Feminists aren't the only ones to do it.

I perceive these two points to be common themes in "The Guilty Feminist" podcast I like to listen to.

People misunderstand the concept of privilege.

You compare people from similar socio-economic backgrounds. You don't compare dissimilar groups.

Those women are being held back when you compare to their brothers.

Evidence needed, strongly. There is an incredible push happening at all levels of e.g. STEM, tech companies, everywhere, to get women. They receive special support, scholarships, extra application tracks, extra programs, preferred hiring, and boys are falling more and more behind.

Are you really trying to say that the Harvard-Stanford-Oxbridge woman is held back compared to, say, the plumber's son (no offence, a highly useful profession, but you will find few of their children at these unis)?

Not who you are replying to, but in general I would say that the things you point (extra help women receive right now) are in general working, and that the fact that they are working is supports the fact that they should continue. This doesn’t mean that men should not also receive targeted help, as should anyone who is disadvantaged, whether through socioeconomic status, race, disability, or otherwise. Solving problems that classes of people have on a class level and making those classes of people more successful is a good thing, and we should be doing more of it. There is a huge issue now where young men, especially those of low SES are not encouraged to or given the right pathways to find success and I see the wheels slowly start turning on social movement to facilitate positive change on that front as well, especially starting in early childhood education.

Certainly this is nonsense. A significant majority of undergraduate and graduate degrees go to women.

Because the proportion of college degrees is the only measure of privilege /s. Convenient not to consider representation in government or executive boardrooms.

Women tend to be over-represented in government and party leadership positions compared to their numbers at the base, for example as party members.

And that's why the women outnumber the men on college campuses?

Woman are now 33% more likely to go to faculty than men. So care to explain how woman are being held back (unless your are proposing there are clear intelectual and cognitive differences between genders)?


The problem I always have with stories like this is the context.

1) The writer breathlessly warns that "campuses across the country" are succumbing to mob rule. How many campuses is that? Sure, we "know" from the internet that this problem is rampant, just like we "know" that other hot-button issues such as shooting of unarmed black teens, the incel movement, anchor babies, etc. have reached epidemic proportions. But in many cases as in this article we have no context as to just how common these problems are. Is this happening at 10 percent of campuses, fifty percent, 1/10 of 1%? Is the trendline up in the past year or just the reporting of it?

2) What about the historical context? Colleges have been hotbeds of protest for hundreds of years. Is it really true that something has fundamentally changed, or does it just seem that way because this time groups that we (ymmv) approve of are on the receiving end of the protests? If the issue is free speech, ought we not also compare historical limits on free speech imposed by governments, college donors and churches? Perhaps students have gained power because some of those prior actors have lost power, and if so, maybe that is not a bad thing. How much free speech did Jews, women and black students have when they weren't even allowed to enroll in certain colleges in the first place? When exactly was the golden age of academic freedom that everybody wants to return to? I have a feeling the answer to that strongly depends on when the respondent happened to attend school.

3) This article also lumps together issues which are linked in only the most nebulous of ways. What is this specific bakery case meant to be an example of? The author states, "Across the country, academics have caused lasting damage to their institutions by failing to stand up to, or actively supporting, extreme demands for speech codes, limits on academic freedom, and tenure changes." But this situation, of Oberlin officials and students protesting a bakery, doesn't seem to fit into any of those categories. Or maybe it's meant to illustrate how "leaders are ceding control to a small group of activist students and faculty members." Huh, who's ceding control to whom? Seems to me the activist students and faculty members <i>are</i> the leaders.

4) In this specific instance, the writer in my opinion fails to adequately cover both sides of the story. Why were the students and faculty so sure that racism took place if that so clearly was not the case, as portrayed here? It appears as if they had ample opportunity to walk back their position but refused to even in the face of potentially ruinous litigation.

5) And if schools are losing verdicts and enrollment right and left, then isn't this a self-correcting problem? The expression goes that you have freedom of speech but not freedom from consequences. Overactivist universities will face oblivion, problem solved. Or perhaps potential students will decide that going to schools that support their social issues is worth the higher tuition and stricter environment. Many religious institutions impose extra restrictions and limit free expression -- some people are okay with that kind of learning environment; as a society we're generally not apoplectic over it.

I'm not denying there are some seeming trends that are seemingly worrisome. I just can't tell, from most of these articles, how truly widespread they are, how deep is their support, how much of the hysteria is media or internet driven, how badly activism affects the overall university experience, and why supposedly large numbers of students and faculty are so strongly in support of them if they are all downside and no benefit.

EDIT: When I started writing my comment there were no other replies. Thank you grellas and others for providing a lot more context than existed in the article itself.

This is your paraphrase:

> The writer breathlessly warns that "campuses across the country" are succumbing to mob rule.

And this is the actual sentence from the article from which you took the quote:

> As on other campuses across the country, these protests are encouraged by an array of faculty members and ever accommodating administrators.

Not exactly a fair paraphrase. And I found the article's tone quite level; hardly 'breathless'.

>...Oberlin College in Ohio is the equivalent of the “China syndrome” during nuclear accidents, a point where chain reactions become impossible to stop or control.

You find literally comparing this court case to a nuclear meltdown "level"? I tend to agree with the OP here, this takes an egregious case at a notoriously liberal school and then generalizes it to "across the country" as a clear and present danger. Oberlin was obviously in the wrong here and is being sharply punished for it, so it seems that the system is working.

Colleges have been hotbeds of protest for hundreds of years. Is it really true that something has fundamentally changed, or does it just seem that way because this time groups that we (ymmv) approve of are on the receiving end of the protests?

You’re right, and the voices of young people have sometimes made actual, positive changes to the world… look at Tiananmen Square, Kent State, Occupy Wall Street or the 1964 Berkeley protests (just off the top of my head).

It’s not who the recipients are that’s the problem, it’s that this protest appears to be predicated on a lie, and that destroying these people’s livelihood was not even a consideration to the school’s administration... that’s the problem. There’s no nobility in this kind of protest, and it will not make our world a better place to live in.

And does it matter how many times this has happened to become worrisome? This kind of activism is cropping up all over the place (social media, news, entertainment) so I’m not sure the focus should be on the number of colleges this has happened at, but rather the ethos that’s driving younger generations.

Does anyone know what framework an appellate court will use to review/revise the damages? The article says $22 million is the state max, but are there other factors that will reduce the amount further?

Its 2x the compensatory damages. So, in this case compensatory damages were $11 million, so the punitive damages is capped at an additional $22 million leaving a total verdict of $33 million. The standard appeals process can overturn or reduce damages.

But the jury verdict is entitled to deference (or at least would be in my state, couldn't swear to Ohio law).

In almost every state jury awards for damages are reduced, often drastically, down to what can be proven as material damage. Unless someone has receipts for the $11 million (I haven't read the case) it will likely be reduced. This is the benefit of the 'tort reform' theories pushed by pro-business GOP legislators over the last 40 years.

Here's the statute: http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/2315.21

I find it hard to parse, but there doesn't seem to be a lot of room to remove the cap. Maybe if they conclude that the acts of the school amounted to felony libel?

> (6) Division (D)(2) of this section does not apply to a tort action where the alleged injury, death, or loss to person or property resulted from the defendant acting with one or more of the culpable mental states of purposely and knowingly as described in section 2901.22 of the Revised Code and when the defendant has been convicted of or pleaded guilty to a criminal offense that is a felony, that had as an element of the offense one or more of the culpable mental states of purposely and knowingly as described in that section, and that is the basis of the tort action.

From what I know, 22 million isn’t the max, 2X is the max for punitive damages. So they got 11.2 million for damages so they can only get 2x11.2=22.4 for the punitive. So 33.6 million total. Sorry, not sure if I answered the question?

It's strange that stories from the progressive end of this discussion get (often rightfully) flagged into oblivion in seconds, but this conservative campus panic story survives to 45 comments.

I'm not sure what you mean by "this discussion", but if you mean ideology in general, HN has had plenty of stories from progressive perspectives on the front page. This is an area where perceptions are particularly unreliable. Each side tends to feel that the site is biased against their side, often quite passionately.

We sometimes turn off flags on stories that are substantive and interesting and where there's hope for a thoughtful discussion. Sometimes those stories have one ideological polarity, sometimes another.

I'm not sure what qualifies this as a "conservative" story. This is a human interest story concerning people who were quite clearly harmed because of this school's actions.

To me, that takes precedence over partisan politics. And it's not like this is Tucker Carlson reporting on Fox News, this from is a pretty respected, left-leaning site.

The 8chan warrant story is still on the 2nd page after a whole day, and wasn't flagged.

And this story is about a $887 million institution pressuring a working-class assault victim to drop charges against their attackers, by using libel and economic sanctions.

So what makes this story 'conservative'? That the victim was white?

Most of the interest in this story has been in right-wing media stemming from a false "racism" accusation that is a PART of this case and also due to a bigger narrative around left-wing campuses. I'd frame the story differently than you did, but the bigger point is that we shouldn't pretend this isn't mostly a right-wing media news story for these reasons.

I think we both agree that if the racism charge had strong merit (it didn't), then most would see this as a liberal news story because that's mostly who would be focusing on it. People tend to be drawn to stories that reinforce their world view.

That, of course, doesn't mean it shouldn't be part of the discussion here. (I've been active in this thread so obviously I think it should be here.)

Edit: Also, I'm not the person you were responding to but this was very dishonest of you:

> That the victim was white?

OP said exactly why they thought it was conservative. They cited that it was because it was related to "conservative campus panic." To pretend they could have said it because "the victim was white" is very dishonest of you.

> OP said exactly why they thought it was conservative. They cited that it was because it was related to "conservative campus panic." To pretend they could have said it because "the victim was white" is very dishonest of you.

Dishonest? In your very post, you agree with me! You say if the racism charge had merit, i.e. if the white kid was at fault, then it would be a liberal story. Just like [1].

Saying they thought it was conservative because it was related to conservative campus panic is pretty much circular logic, and doesn't explain anything. If anything was dishonest in my post, it was the implication that the attitude was limited to pessimizer, when in fact it seems to have seeped into the terms 'conservative' and 'liberal' themselves.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jun/25/citing-trump...

It sounds like you're taking a very one sided perspective in evaluating this. The story is pretty clear - a black kid stole product, the owner tried to protect his product, the kid cried racism, the college called racism, the college encouraged and orchestrated protests, the college financially intervened by removing contracts with the business, etc.

Since when is someone not entitled to protecting their property? He didn't come out shooting a gun, he came out and got jumped. The school said it was racial profiling - even though no one denied it was theft. What side of the story is missing here? More personal testimony that the intervention was racially based? There's just nothing more to the story that could make this balance out.

I think your reluctance to take the facts at face value and instead say "well what if this really was racist" is exactly the indoctrination that schools like this have fostered. It's like back in the day when people did this kind of crap to ruin black businesses and thinking "well what if we don't know the full story behind their behavior?" Sure maybe there was a valid justification for the hateful behavior, but apply the logical razor.

Racism seemed to be getting a lot better about 10 years ago and since then it seems to have taken a turn. Now it's seemingly in vogue to hate on whites. Don't doubt that there are people out there who think that's a good thing, but consider that the next time the pendulum swings it won't still be the same race being targeted. Do we want to have another Jim Crow era in 2030 where we collectively hate blacks like is so popular to do to whites now?

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20191889.

I don't know how you're quoting me at saying "well what if this really was racist?" My question was why did the students and faculty think it was racist to the point of going forward with a disastrous trial?

About your last paragraph, I feel like you're just illustrating my larger point. Is it really en vogue to "hate on whites" or is the media and internet pushing that narrative because divisiveness brings page views? Btw, Jim Crow wasn't just about hating on black people, it was about a legal and societal framework where blacks were kept in subservience, poverty, disenfranchisement and constant fear for their lives. People didn't need to hate blacks so much, as long as they stayed in their place. Things were orders of magnitude worse than people on Twitter jawboning about reparations and white privilege.

You must be misunderstanding something here. This isn't "people on Twitter jawboning" - this is about an institution playing vigilante by deliberately and wrongly accusing a store owner of racism when all he did was try to protect his property. This is real life people losing their jobs and money because they dare to try and stop someone from stealing from them. Not even just the store owner but his employees. Quoting from yourself, this is about "keeping them in subservience" and making sure they "stay in their place".

If you really don't see that and want to continue with the racist apologia then by all means, it's a free country.

Well that went off the rails real fast. Might want to wall back that last paragraph. No one is hating on whites. Nazis, on the other hand, can go fuck themselves.

Would the bakery owners be the "literal nazis" in this case?

Let me guess, everyone suffers from racism except white people. And white people are the only ones who can be racist.

I've learned a lot about HN today.

We've banned this account for breaking the site guidelines and ignoring our requests to stop.

If you don't want to be banned, you're welcome to email hn@ycombinator.com and give us reason to believe that you'll follow the rules in the future.


What an awful website experience.

There wasn't just a demonstration (tho even that would be overdone considering the kid was shoplifting wine - which is a crime and it's not like he was just trying to get some food to survive.) This was deliberate and repeated attempts to libel a store owner out of business or into inane submission. Imagine if your family owned and operated a business for over 100 years, only for it to be dismantled because you rightfully tried to protect your property from theft.

Sounds like you have been indoctrinated by the same hate these colleges are peddling. No not all colleges do this, but 1/10 is too much. These are institutions which should be educating and enlightening, not promoting ignorance of circumstance and leading witch hunts.

> Sounds like you have been indoctrinated by the same hate

Personal attacks will get you banned here. Would you please stop posting in the flamewar style to HN?


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20192246 and marked it off-topic.


>Though you should watch your own posts because they're the type that gets you banned.

Easy there - you're talking to the one who likely does the banning around here.


Please do not post ideological flamebait, or any flamebait, to HN.



The downvotes are more likely because of the fiery rhetoric in your comment. It's tedious, and there's far too much of it online. People come to HN to be interested, not blared at.

Would you mind reviewing the site guidelines and using this site as intended from now on?


Please enlighten me as to what about my post is rhetoric rather than describing a position and backing it up with facts from this very article. You keep saying I'm doing this yet I can't really see what I'm doing beyond assessing a social phenomenon. Can you be more direct than referring me to nebulous guidelines? Because to me it doesn't seem constructive at all.

Fwiw I see posts all over that have the same "fire" that my post does which are top posts. Doubly so for posts that are people just talking their opinions out. Usually around opinion pieces of tech. Is this only different because it involves race?

darkpuma 38 days ago [flagged]

He probably objects to language like "despicable". To fit in around here, it helps to smoke some dope and like, mellow out. Instead of "despicable" you could say something more chill like "disappointing bruh."

Oh trust me I smoke my share of dope.

So, when a business owner tries to protect his property, his son gets jumped, and then a university (which no doubt owes plenty of its success to govt backed loans) declares a witch hunt against him to the point where he loses business, employees and salary - it's going too far to call that despicable? Not calling any individual despicable, but the practice and mentality as a whole - that's not appropriate?

That's a pretty... Strange limitation IMHO. I sure as hell don't see a high level pattern that one ought to be following.

An article solely about Oberlin college, at best, only shows that Oberlin college is losing their way.

The tl;dr seems to be an underage black person tried to buy wine, apparently stole wine, then there was a fight with the owner's son. There was a demonstration that was probably based on an unclear understanding of the events. So people over-reacted to events, yes they were stupid to do. But you shouldn't use this as an excuse to clutch one's pearls and conclude colleges have lost their way. This looks like a cya activity after the true(-er?) facts came out.

Did you miss the part about college officials committing purgery?

In what institution would she be able to keep her job?

So yes - some protest and confusion in the days after are understandable. But the actions of the college go way beyond that.

She should have been fired long ago the college should have apologized to the community alumni and the bakery and then it would all have ended.

This is a good example of colleges getting completely out of hand.

yeah, if she lied she should be fired. I am surprised there is not clear evidence, like a recording.

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