OBERLIN'S RACE-BASED McCARTHYISM
Oberlin College proudly proclaims on its website that from the time of its founding in 1833 it has “thrived on progressive causes and social justice.” Indeed, Oberlin’s founders, many of whom were young radical abolitionists, intended to carve out of the Ohio wilderness their own little Puritan-style city on the hill. But the road to heaven-on-earth proved rocky. Oberlin had recurring financial problems. Wealthy philanthropists like Gerrit Smith, who would become one of the secret supporters of John Brown’s attack on Harper’s Ferry, donated about 20,000 acres of land in the Ohio River Valley to bail Oberlin out. Scandal also rocked the institution. One of its members, a prominent evangelist and abolitionist named Horace Campbell Taylor, was found in 1843 to have pilfered money, engaged in numerous sexual shenanigans, and forced one woman whom he had impregnated into having an abortion. Theodore Dwight Weld, the foremost abolitionist in the western United States, who had poured his heart and soul into Oberlin, investigated. He found an even worse crime: Oberlin officials knew what Campbell had been doing but had dragged their feet and covered up in dealing with the miscreant in their midst. The whole handling of the affair, an angry Weld declared, indicated that the Oberlin’s “reformers found it easier to reform others than themselves or their colleagues.”
Oberlin’s current president, Marvin Krislov, presiding over an endowment approaching 700 million dollars, has not suffered the financial problems of the first ones, but like them, he fancies himself a champion of progressive causes. A graduate of Yale Law School, Krislov served as general counsel at the University of Michigan and played a prominent role in the university’s successful defense before the Supreme Court of affirmative action in Grutter v. Bollinger (2003). As Oberlin’s president, however, Krislov stands at the center of a scandal that Cornell University law professor William Jacobson calls the “greatest race hoax since Tawana Brawley.” Indeed, thanks to Jacobson and intrepid reporters at The Daily Caller, abundant evidence has surfaced to indict the holier-than-thou Krislov and his lieutenants for having indulged in one of the most shameful acts of moral turpitude in its history.
Here’s what happened. In February of this year, Oberlin students reported a rash of bigotry on campus. Posted slurs against blacks, Jews, and gays, along with drawn swastikas and Nazi flags, appeared in various locations. On 15 February, Oberlin’s head of campus security met with the town of Oberlin’s police department to alert it to what was perceived as a serious, growing problem of minority intimidation by unknown perpetrators. The very next day, one Oberlin student identified to campus security two students as prime suspects. Eleven days later, on 27 February, Oberlin’s director of security informed the town’s police department that one of her officers had caught two culprits red-handed in posting inflammatory material. One of the two students confessed in front of the officer who had apprehended him to some but not all of the misdeeds. Oberlin, however, had video evidence to demonstrate additional culpability. Campus officials remained tightlipped as to the identity of the students and their motivation in roiling the campus.
On Monday, 4 March, a reported sighting by an African-American student of someone dressed in a Ku Klux Klan robe—a sighting that quickly turned out to be bogus—sent the campus into a tizzy. Krislov cancelled classes to proclaim a “Day of Solidarity” on Oberlin’s campus. He chimed in with a public announcement that encouraged “the entire community” to attend events that will show Oberlin's commitment to the “diversity and openness” that “enriches us all.” Students, faculty, and staff gathered in a variety o99f locations to have Kumbaya moments in denouncing what most of those assembled must have thought were vile acts perpetrated by closeted right-wing matriculants in their midst, or perhaps by white red-necked townies who had been known from time to time to infiltrate Oberlin’s hallowed halls. In no time, activists had plated up for Krislov’s digestion a list of demands on how to deal with the threat to Oberlin’s progressive values.
As national media like the Wall Street Journal and New York Times picked up the story, commentary flooded in praising Krislov for his allegedly bold and decisive leadership. The Times headlined one article ““Racist Incidents Stun Campus” A professor is quoted as saying that African-American students “feel very frightened, very insecure.” Another professor tells the Times that the Day of Solidarity will allow progressive forces to strategize about how to respond to right-wing bigotry with “positive propaganda.” Still another, in obvious praise of Krislov, adds not to worry, for such bigotry “get[s] addressed” at Oberlin “very quickly.” But get this: In this Times story of 5 March, Scott Wargo, Oberlin’s Director of Public Relations, states, “investigators had not [yet]determined whether the suspect or suspects were students or from off-campus,” even though days before Oberlin’s chief of security had sent quite a different message to the town of Oberlin’s police department. Thus, at least five days after Oberlin’s head of security told Oberlin’s police department that they had apprehended two guilty students (and, one must conclude by then, knew a good deal about them), Oberlin officials apparently did nothing to deter the Times in describing these incidents as, in essence, vile acts of right-wing hate.
Yet, not all of the newspaper reporting seemed to jibe, and, ironically, it may well have been the story published in the left-wing Manchester Guardian that raised the antennae of folks at The Daily Caller to probe far more deeply into the story than Oberlin’s officialdom wanted anyone to do. One day before the Times story ran, the Guardian reported having interviewed Lt. Mike McCloskey of the town of Oberlin police department who said, point blank, that those responsible for the alleged hate crimes--contra Oberlin’s director of public relations—had been caught, identified as Oberlin undergraduates, and had been removed from campus. Even more curious, Lt. McCloskey added, “[I]t is unclear if they [the two undergraduate perpetrators] were motivated by racial hatred or—as has been suggested—were attempting a commentary on free speech.”
Shortly after the Guardian and Times stories broke, and one day before a scheduled meeting of Oberlin’s board of trustees, the college’s public relations department swung into action with a self-congratulatory story of its own, by Krislov, making him look like a shining knight against the hate-mongers. With the headline “We Stand United,” and attended by a picture of Krislov, smiling like a Cheshire-cat, he assured the world that “investigating these events has been our highest priority.” Although he warns that the “media frenzy” has not necessarily led to accurate reporting, he hides behind the “privacy rights of everyone” in refusing to confirm or deny anything that has come out about the case off campus from the town of Oberlin’s police department.
Krislov admitted that he had been besieged by student and faculty concerns. A long train of comments appended to his article makes clear that not only the national media but a wide range of Oberlin-connected people were viewing the incidents as the work of right-wing bigots. A frustrated few ask Krislov for some facts, which are in no way forthcoming from him or his lieutenants. Despite a very long history of left-wing students at elite college campuses manufacturing hate crimes to advance their political agendas, Krislov’s words do absolutely nothing to dissuade anyone from concluding at this point, when he surely has abundant information on the two expelled students from an investigation that he claims is his highest priority, that the malicious postings are anything but the work of the misbegotten right. Nowhere, let it be stressed, did Krislov say, whatever the restrictions caused by an individual’s privacy rights, that persons watching the unfolding events should not rush to judgment about the perpetrators and their motivations. One hopes that no conservative, libertarian, or traditionalist student goes to Oberlin College, and after Krislov’s performance the parents of such children should be put on their guard to avoid that school like the plague. But can you imagine the chilling impact of Krislov’s Day of Witch Hunt on students at Oberlin who may not be of a progressive persuasion?
One day into the board of trustees’ meetings, Oberlin announces that the FBI has arrived over the hill to investigate the “bias incidents.” Growing ever more suspicious of the college’s evasiveness, The Daily Caller resorted to an Ohio Open Records Act request in order to obtain police records with which to extract some facts. Eventually, the two students are identified. The clear leader of the two is one Dylan Bleier, a self-described “atheist/pacifist/environmentalist/libertarian socialist/consequentialist.” Bleier, from Ithaca, New York, had quite a track record there for left-wing activism, particularly on "environmental issues.”
In light of these and other discoveries, Professor Jacobson, through his excellent website, legalinsurrection.com, has been hammering away at a stonewall erected by Oberlin officials to prevent him from getting answers to such pertinent questions as what precisely did Krislov, members of Oberlin’s board of trustees, and other top-ranking Oberlin officials know and when did they know it. Once again, it seems, Oberlin’s reformers need to be thinking about reforming themselves before attempting to reform others. In my next piece, I will provide a few juicy tidbits that may shed additional light on this case. Months before the appearance of the inflammatory postings, Bleier had repeatedly blogged that he was no fan of Krislov because he was not radically left enough. Evidence of this can be found on Oberlin’s own website.