Oberlin College will likely be financially secure after libel payout

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By Timothy Nerozzi

July 6, 2019

OBERLIN College will be facing a heavy financial penalty in the coming weeks after losing a public lawsuit to a local family business, but the payout will not be near enough to threaten the continued existence of the college.

Gibson’s Bakery has been awarded $11 million from the liberal arts college in compensatory damages after a series of protests were lodged against the fifth-generation family business by students and faculty. A judge has ruled that in addition to the $11 million in compensation, the school may be on the hook for up to an additional $33 million in punitive damages.

Now, Judge John Miraldi, the official presiding over the case, is considering the addition of attorney fees on top of the historically high libel damages. These legal fees could total more than $9 million dollars — a substantial increase.

Some have begun to speculate what this massive payout could do to OBERLIN College, one of the nation’s oldest and historic private universities.

Last year, endowed funds at the college totaled over $887 million dollars. Most of this money is held in a common investment pool. The college also holds small, gifted investments given by alumni and benefactors.

“OBERLIN College’s spending and investment policies have provided substantial levels of financial support to the operating budget,” the school’s Investment Office said on their official website. “The annual distributions are critical in supporting our academic mission while preserving endowment purchasing power for future generations.”

Possibly the biggest long-term damage that the Gibson Bakery lawsuit can cause is a besmirched reputation and, consequentially, lower donations from alumi organizations. Since the college became involved in the bakery scandal, many alumni have spoken out against the administration’s decisions.

Michelle Malkin, a conservative commentator and OBERLIN alum, wrote an opinion column in which she said, “False racial allegations and toxic identity politics are the bread and butter of OBERLIN campus life.”

The protests were formed in 2016, after Jonathan Aladin, an African-American student, was caught attempting to purchase alcohol from the bakery with a fake ID.

After being denied his purchase, Aladin attempted to flee the store with shoplifted bottles of wine under his clothes.

A Gibson’s employee gave chase, and a fight erupted between the employee, Aladin, and two previously uninvolved accomplices. When police arrived, the three students were kicking the employee on the ground.

The three students were arrested for battery and assault, and Aladin was also charged for his shoplifting.

“Regarding the incident at Gibson’s, we are deeply troubled because we have heard from students that there is more to the story than what has been generally reported.”

Protesters chanted, picketed, and distributed leaflets to passersby.

“This is a racist establishment with a long account of racial profiling and discrimination,” said one piece of literature handed out across from Gibson’s.

The defense claimed that accusations of racism and bigotry could not be slanderous because of their frequency in public debate.

“Courts in other jurisdictions likewise hold that use of the term ‘racist’ and similar name calling are protected opinions because the term ‘racist is hurled about so indiscriminately that it is no more than a verbal slap in the face,” said OBERLINs representative.