Will column: Oberlin has graduated from self-caricature to disgrace
WASHINGTON — Oberlin College has an admirable liberal past and a contemptible progressive present that will devalue its degrees far into the future. This is condign punishment for the college’s mendacity about helping to incite a mob mentality and collective bullying in response to “racist” behavior that never happened.
Founded in 1833, Oberlin became one of the nation’s first colleges to admit African Americans, and its first coeducational liberal arts college. It has, however, long since become a byword for academic self-caricature, where students protest, among many microaggressions, the food service’s insensitive cultural appropriation of banh mi sandwiches, sushi and General Tso’s chicken. Oberlin could have been Randall Jarrell’s model for his fictional Benton College, where people “would have swallowed a porcupine, if you had dyed its quills and called it Modern Art; they longed for men to be discovered on the moon, so that they could show that they weren’t prejudiced toward moon men.”
In November 2016, a clerk in Gibson’s Bakery, having seen a black Oberlin student shoplifting bottles of wine, pursued the thief. The thief and two female friends were, according to the police report, kicking and punching the clerk on the ground when the police arrived. Some social justice warriors — they evidently cut class the day critical thinking was taught, if it is taught at Oberlin — instantly accused the bakery of racially profiling the shoplifter, an accusation complicated by the fact that the shoplifter and his partners in assault pleaded guilty.
The warriors mounted a protracted campaign against the bakery’s reputation and solvency. But with the cowardice characteristic of bullies, Oberlin claimed in court that it had nothing to do with what its students did when they acted on the progressive righteousness that they imbibe at the school. However, at an anti-bakery protest, according to a complaint filed by the bakery, the dean of students helped distribute fliers, produced on college machines, urging a boycott because “this is a RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.” (There is no record of any such complaints against the bakery, from which Oberlin bought goods until the hysteria began.) According to court documents, the administration purchased pizza for the protesters and authorized the uses of student funds to buy gloves for protesters. The college also signaled support for the protests by suspending college purchases from the bakery for two months.
A jury in the defamation trial awarded the bakery $11 million from Oberlin, and $33 million more in punitive damages. The $44 million probably will be reduced because, under Ohio law, punitive damages cannot exceed double the amount of compensatory damages. The combination of malice and mendacity precluded a free-speech defense, and the jury accepted the obvious: The college’s supposed adults were complicit in this protracted smear. Such complicity is a familiar phenomenon.
As Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson demonstrated in their meticulous 2007 book “Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case,” Duke’s administration and a large swath of the faculty incited hysteria against a few young men accused of a rape that never happened. The University of Virginia’s administration similarly rushed to indignant judgment in response to a facially preposterous magazine story about another fictitious rape.
The shoplifting incident occurred the day after the 2016 presidential election, which Oberlin’s president and dean of students partially blamed for students’ “pain and sadness” and “fears and concerns” during the “difficult few days” after the “events” at the bakery. From Oberlin’s despisers of Donald Trump, the events elicited lies and, in effect, cries of “fake news,” the brazenness of which the master in the White House might admire. Oberlin alumni who are exhorted to contribute to this college, which has been made stupid and mendacious by politics, should ponder where at least $22 million is going.
Continuing to do what it denies ever doing — siding against the bakery — Oberlin, in impeccable progressive-speak, accuses the bakery of an “archaic chase-and-detain” policy regarding shoplifters and insists that “the guilt or innocence of the students is irrelevant” to the — of course — “root cause” of the protests against the bakery.
Oberlin’s president defiantly says “none of this will sway us from our core values.” Those values — moral arrogance, ideology-induced prejudgments, indifference to evidence — are, to continue using the progressive patois, the root causes of Oberlin’s descent beyond caricature and into disgrace.
George Will’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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