Posted Mar 4, 2020 at 19:30. Revised Apr 25, 2021 at 09:18.
Contents — 35 (K) Above Reality
OberlinChaos switches gears
Until now, OberlinChaos has focused on the appalling shortcomings in the College’s Board of Trustees. How could they possibly have gotten themselves into such a mess over such an inconsequential incident as stealing wine from Gibson’s Bakery? We have mused elsewhere over how the BOT and administration have disconnected so entirely from the everyday world.
OberlinChaos is switching gears and will create a series of vignette posts that will deal with the growing complexity in which the Gibson mess has raised its head. The vignettes will be discrete stories that ultimately interconnect.
35 people sit on a time bomb
JD has been reviewing some of the earlier events in the Gibson Bakery fiasco and came across an interesting post by Prof. Jacobson of Cornell Law School. It is something that our 35 trustees are sweeping under the table.
The good professor surmises that the College’s liability insurance may not pay for the College’s Gibson Bakery liabilities because the court found the College to be at fault in an avoidable mess. The College did not take reasonable steps to avoid generating a colossal debt to Gibson’s Bakery. The hypercharged events on Tappan Square the day after President Trump was elected did not happen in a vacuum.
To understand this insurance issue, think of auto insurance. If the insured has an unforeseeable accident, the coverage must pay for the damages. If the auto owner causes an accident to happen by design or willful negligence, it is insurance fraud, and the insured will receive nothing except jail time.
The insurance issue is currently out of the headlines because it will not come to the fore until a final court settlement. Only then will the liability amount be known. If Prof. Jacobson is right and he appears to make a strong case, having no insurance will only make the college’s financial troubles worse.
The college is going to great lengths to obscure this issue with distractions and a massive PR campaign. President Ambar says the current cost-cutting has nothing to do with losing the recent Gibson lawsuit. Hurry, hurry, hurry. Buy Oberlin’s Professor Street Bridge over Plum Creek while it is still available.
35k over flyover country
On a transcontinental flight, it is often easy to see the condescending elitism from passengers who live on the coasts. They have contempt toward the people who live and work in the heartland.
This contempt has everything to do with Oberlin College’s bad relations with the town of Oberlin. The BOT and the “important” people in the administration often look down on the rest of the city of Oberlin the same way that many airline passengers derisively look down on the land 35000 feet below their feet. These folks see nothing wrong with thinking unliberal liberal or reactionary progressive thoughts to combat the boredom of a long flight or a day in Oberlin.
Such thoughts are typical boredom reverie in the circles in which important people orbit. The passengers’ thoughts insult the intelligence, industriousness, and skills of those living on the land below.
First, the “rust belt” is a derisive name used with alacrity toward those living and working in the industrial heartland. While flying over the “flyover” country, the passengers deride the too small to see specks of people below as deplorable, ignorant, homophobes, uncultured, misogynists, Christians, etc., and the list goes on.
Oberlin’s incomplete education
Most people think that early childhood potty training is complete by the time a child reaches kindergarten and has no relevance at the College level. Not true. Cleanliness around dirty-hands jobs is something that most mothers have not covered.
A real dirty-hands job is one where a person gets his or her hands so dirty that one must scrub them for minutes before urinating. Any time it makes sense to wash hands after urinating, the current work is not a genuinely dirty-hands job.
There is a lot more to a real dirty-hands job than just having to revise one’s thinking. Meeting and working with dirty hands people is an excellent elitism antidote.
The BOT members presume that any new student has already acquired many essential life skills. The BOT members have a beautiful but secluded view of the world, coming mostly from living on the East or West coasts. They live in happy, privileged sinecures and have limited experience with dirty-hands jobs or those who perform them. Sure, they have all gotten their hands dirty at various points in their lives, perhaps even daily.
During college, JD Nobody briefly held a truly “dirty-hands” summer job and now sees it as having been a helpful life experience. It seems reasonable that the BOT and administration would be good at the figuratively dirty-hand skills that make organizational messes and then make embarrassments go away honorably. That does not seem to be the case when the time came to deal with the Gibsons.
Scrubbing dirty hands
Are polished people in the administration spending someone else’s money to scrub enough dirt off their resumés to get jobs elsewhere? Smashing the equivalent of 225 concert grand pianos is a small price — right now — to pay to wash a public screwup off one’s hands, especially when someone else’s money pays for it.
See Oberlin’s Gibson Henhouse Fox May Be Caught! The water remains muddy as to whether the Foxes outmaneuvered the BOT or the Foxes are following the BOT’s orders or if the fiasco is a regenerative, circular operation.
Extrapolating the status quo
The nation and the world are approaching a critical period that the College needs to plan for. Some form of a wrenching world political and financial crisis is on the horizon. It will sharply impact the College’s investments. How much thought has gone into planning for such an event? [At the time JD wrote this, he did not expect the financial crisis to arrive so soon or to devastate so quickly]
The question is when not if. The current order’s upheaval may not be imminent, but it is inevitable. Planning by extrapolating the status quo with an Excel spreadsheet will not work because the coming turmoil will end the status quo.
Committees usually make financial decisions that maximize the dispersal of blame in case things don’t work out. The emphasis is on creating arrangements that are safe from criticism. In times of crisis, making quick decisions is imperative, and those decisions must be the right decisions. Such decisions may not be the safest decisions.
Is Oberlin’s Investment Committee prepared to shift gears when the time comes? JD seriously doubts it because, to the extent that financial institutions or financial people are involved in decision making, they will always make the decision that is the safest one, which may not be the best one for the client.
A head-scratcher for the lawyers…
Lawyers are ethically bound to represent the needs and desires of their clients, and a good trial lawyer will present the most credible case possible for his/her client. In this context, it should be possible for a creative legal mind to find a way to quarantine the managerial incompetence emanating from the Oberlin College BOT.
It seems pretty clear that the managerial incompetence of the BOT is damaging the entire town of Oberlin and not just the college. The question becomes, “How can this rampant incompetence be quarantined? It looks like BOT removal and replacement is called for, which would be no easy legal task since it is unlikely that the current culprits would disappear without a fight.
One possible solution is to find a way for the court to appoint a receiver for the College who would have the power to appoint a new BOT and change the organizational structure as appropriate. Throwing the college into receivership may not be possible, but a creative legal mind should be able to find some way to clean things up for the benefit of both the college and the town.
There are several difficult legal questions involved in how best to wrest control from the people who have abused their offices.
- What sort of legal action could be brought against the College?
- What court would have jurisdiction in the matter?
- Who would have the standing to bring the action to court?
Oberlin needs a benevolent Pol Pot
Oberlin has changed a lot in the 160+ years since its original Learning and Labor model began to fall apart. The metamorphosis from a college of scholars who got their hands dirty to a land of elitist sinecures happened too slowly for most to notice. Recently, the consequences of discarding all heritage have become too shocking to miss. The organization has become dysfunctional.
Oberlin College needs a benevolent Pol Pot to come in and temporarily drive the deadwood among the trustees and administration out into the world of the real people for whom they have such disrespect. This exile into flyover country and the “rust belt” need not be permanent — just long enough for the exiles to learn something about how the rest of the world lives and learn something from it.
The elitists who would be exiled are almost all devoted haters of President Trump who cannot comprehend what the President has understood — the people living in flyover country have received enough elitist snubs and welcome people who treat them as something other than deplorable. This point was fully understood over most of the College’s history. At the same time, today’s elitist snobs cannot fathom how their insensitivity could have made a man they revile become President of the United States.
The BOT sets the tone for the college administration, and the college, in turn, sets the tone for the town. The poor relationships with the city have their roots in the elitist “important” people populating the BOT. Shaping up the BOT will eventually trickle down to the rest of the College and then to the entire city.
A benevolent Pol Pot who would order the elitists out into the world where real people live would work wonders in reconnecting them to the current situation. Probably nothing less than this will bring the cocky oud down to reality.
Re Twitter: OberlinChaos.com has observed the tight ethical commonality between President Trump and Oberlin’s President Ambar. Both understand how to use Twitter effectively to pursue their similar PR objectives. OberlinChaos will reluctantly use Twitter in the future because if it is powerful enough and good enough for these two Presidents, it is good enough for OberlinChaos. Twitter is, at the least, not as ethically obnoxious as is Facebook.
/s/ JD Nobody (No pronouns!), OC ’61.