Saturday Ethics Stragglers, 4/2/2022: My First Mask Confrontation, And More

Well, I finally did it. As I was returning with Spuds for a walk, I saw a tall young man standing alone in the middle of the athletic field behind our cul-de-sac, and couldn’t retrain myself.

“Hey, do you mind if I ask you a question?” I began.

“No,” he said.

I introduced myself, and then asked, “Why are you in the middle of a field, on a lovely evening, with nobody withing sight except me and my dog, wearing a mask? You’re vaccinated, right.”

He responded that he was. After a “So?” from me, he said, “It’s just that my friends and I think it’s important to wear a mask to show that we support science; you know, in climate change and all that.”

I had obviously chosen—not poorly at all.

“Interesting”, I said. “So in a state where health officials have said masks are unnecessary—and I assume you know that masks like the one you’re wearing provide no protection at all—you are wearing it anyway to show you believe in science, though “scientists” have been wrong and misleading repeatedly regarding the pandemic, and every scientist agrees that masking in your current situation is pointless. Is that fair?”

“I guess so,” he said.

“I think you’re really wearing a mask to signal conformity, and you’re doing it a way that is anti-science in any way. Will you think about that? Maybe talk to your friends?”

“Sure,” the young man said. “I will. Thanks.”

“Thanks for chatting,” I said. And I left.

I noticed that he kept his mask on.

The damage that the politicized reaction to the Wuhan virus and its relatives has done to our culture, society, nation and social structure is immense, and I suspect its full effect won’t be revealed for a long time. Best to start the long, hard road of undoing it as quickly as possible.

1. I thought this was inevitable. A Los Angeles judge ruled that California’s recent law mandating that corporate boards meet racial, gender, ethnic and LGBT quotas violates the state Constitution. The ruling last week granted summary judgment to Judicial Watch, the conservative legal group seeking a permanent injunction against the measure. The lawsuit argued it was illegal to use taxpayer funds to enforce a law that violates the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. I think the American Bar Association’s recent declaration that all Continuing Legal Education programs must have “diverse” panels or not receive certification violates the same principle, and the ruling will bolster the opposition to it. The California ruling might reach the Supreme Court.

I wonder how new Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson will rule on it…

2. Weenie, hypocrite, or disingenuous woke speech censor? Dean Gerken of Yale Law School finally made a substantial statement on the March 10 Protest when law students were permitted to disrupt a planned debate including a conservative advocate in the LGBTQ teaching controversy. It’s pretty bad, especially at the end, saying in part,

…In accordance with the University’s free expression policy, which includes a three-warning protocol, those protesting exited the room after the first warning, and the event went forward. Had the protestors shut down the event, our course of action would have been straightforward — the offending students without question would have been subject to discipline. Although the students complied with University policies inside the event, several students engaged in rude and insulting behavior as the event began; a number made excessive noise in our hallways that interfered with several events taking place; and some refused to listen to our staff.

This behavior was unacceptable; at a minimum it violated the norms of this Law School. This is an institution of higher learning, not a town square, and no one should interfere with others’ efforts to carry on activities on campus. YLS is a professional school, and this is not how lawyers interact…. I expect far more from our students, and I want to state unequivocally that this cannot happen again. My administration will be in serious discussion with our students about our policies and norms for the rest of the semester.

As Dean, I am deeply committed to our free speech policies and the values they safeguard. I will protect free speech without fear or favor. But I have waited to write you because it is our conversations as a community that matter most. In our statement-hungry culture, university leaders are constantly asked to be referees, encouraging our students to appeal to a higher authority rather than to engage with one another and tempting outsiders to enlist academic institutions in their own political agendas. Statements are expected instantly from institutions whose core values include deliberation and due process — values that are essential where, as here, the reporting has been so contradictory. And pundits parse any statement to see which side they favor when the role of a university is not to take sides but to articulate its mission with clarity. Most importantly, statements are poor teaching tools. Learning involves speaking and listening, through iterative conversations in smaller settings with mentors and peers. That has always been our teaching model, and that is the only way that our norms can be understood and internalized. Although these conversations are not visible to outsiders, they are taking place here now, and the institution will be the better for it.

The deeper issues embedded in this event are not unique to Yale Law School — they plague our democracy and institutions across the country. Nonetheless, we will overcome these challenges because we must. Together, we will figure out how to nurture a thriving intellectual environment while maintaining a community of equality and mutual respect. It is harder than ever to find common ground; the stakes are high, and the rights of cherished members of our own community are under attack. But it is essential that we keep this community together despite the many forces seeking to divide us. I am heartened that as we push forward, we build on an intellectual tradition that stretches back centuries, with a faculty wholly committed to the School’s academic mission and students of every political stripe imbued with idealism and intelligence. As Dean, I am and will always remain unalterably committed to keeping that tradition vibrant and alive.

Heather K. Gerken
Dean and Sol & Lillian Goldman Professor of Law

But the students responsible still weren’t punished.  David Lat, the Yale law alum who had previously written an open letter criticizing the Dean, was not impressed, writing,

[W]hile I appreciate Dean Gerken’s statement that a successful shutdown of the event (like what happened at UC Hastings) would have triggered discipline, Yale’s free-speech policy doesn’t require an event to be shut down entirely in order for a violation to occur. To the extent that Dean Gerken has created such a requirement, she has revised Yale University policy—and made it much easier for protesters to trample on free speech…

The Yale free-speech policy also offers seven examples of prohibited conduct. The protesters engaged in at least six of them:

  • “Holding up signs in a manner that obstructs the view of those attempting to watch an event or speaker, regardless of the message expressed.”
  • “[S]houting… in a manner that interferes with speakers’ ability to be heard and of community members to listen, or disrupts or interferes with classes or other university activities.”
  • “Standing up in an assembly in a way that obstructs the view of those attempting to watch an event or speaker and/or blocking the aisles or routes of egress.”
  • “Sitting in or otherwise occupying a building in a way that blocks access or otherwise interferes with university events or operations.”
  • “Acting in ways that compromise the safety or bodily integrity of oneself or others.
  • “Engaging in activities that are illegal or are prohibited in School or College regulations or policies.”

The fact that some of the prohibited conduct lasted for only a limited period of time is no defense; a violation occurs after the prohibited act has been committed….

It seems increasingly probable that college and university progressives like Yale’s Dean support the suppression of speech that undermines or weakens the Left’s holy agenda. [Source: TaxProf Blog]

3. Today’s depressing addition to the Will Smith-Chris Rock Ethics Train Wreck: Denzel Washington. The acclaimed actor spoke out about the incident at  bishop T.D. Jakes’ International Leadership Summit. I wish he hadn’t. It was another reminder, and I have had many in my career, that even actors who excel at portraying complex characters and who can radiate perception, depth and wisdom in screen and stage roles are too often just not very bright. Here is what Denzel had to add to the Oscars slap controversy:

“There but for the grace of God go any of us. Who are we to condemn? I don’t know all the ins and outs of the situation, but I know the only solution was prayer, the way I see it….Well, there’s a saying: ‘When the devil ignores you, then you know you’re doing something wrong.’ The devil goes “Oh, no, leave him alone, he’s my favorite. Conversely, when the devil comes at you, maybe it’s because he’s trying to do something right. And for whatever reason the devil got ahold of that circumstance that night.”

Authentic Frontier Gibberish, with one ridiculous or intellectually lazy assertion after another:

  • No, “any of us” are not going to go up on stage in a live broadcast and attack a comedian. If fact, nobody ever had, and nobody ever will again. Do I have “There but for the grace of God…” or the equivalent on the Rationalizations List? I’ll have to check—I think so.
  • “Who are we to condemn?” The guy who did the slapping. Next question.
  • “The only solution is prayer”? How did that solve anything for Chris Rock, or the Oscars, or all those who watched and were inclined to think, “See? Violence is justified when someone says something you don’t like!”?
  • Here are some other solutions for someone in Smith’s position: apologize to all before you pat yourself on the back, blather about love, and party all night like nothing happened.
  • So the devil made Smith act like a thug and an asshole because Smith is so good! The whole incident reflects well on him then, right, Denzel?

4. The rest of the story...Back in 2016, three black Oberlin College students shoplifted bottles of win from a local business in the college town. The were caught and arrested.

Ethics Alarms first wrote about what happened next here. A summary

On November 9, 2016—probably not coincidentally the day after Donald Trump was elected, throwing ultra-liberal schools like Oberlin into a ludicrously extended period of irrational fear and loathing—Jonathan Aladin, Endia Lawrence and Cecelia Whettstone were caught stealing bottles of wine from Gibson’s Bakery, a small family-owned establishment with a contract with Oberlin . As they have been duly trained by our culture, the students played the race card, initially claiming the shop had racially profiled them, and that their only misdeed was presenting  fake IDs. When that wasn’t working, the three admitted their guilt and also signed statements that the store was innocent of any race-related bias. It also appears that the students punched and kicked the shopkeeper. … (Here is the police incident report.) 

The day after the arrests, hundreds of students protested outside the bakery, and Oberlin’s student senate published a resolution saying Gibson’s had “a history of racial profiling and discriminatory treatment.” The Oberlin police conducted an investigation into the arrests and found “a complete lack of evidence of racism.” Over a five-year period, the bakery had pursued charges against 40 shoplifters, and only six were African-American.

…The owner met with then-Oberlin President Marvin Krislov and Tita Reed, assistant to the president, and they  pressured him to drop criminal charges against the three students and any future student-thieves who were first time offenders. When he did not agree, the complaint alleges, the school made good on its threat and dropped its decade’s long contract with the bakery. …  Meredith Raimondo, vice president and dean of students, joined students and members of the school faculty in campus demonstrations against the bakery, distributing a flyer that accused Gibson’s Bakery of being a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”  A boycott of the business was organized, and according to the complaint, facilitated by the school. College tour guides reportedly informed prospective students that Gibson’s is racist. …

In this post, I discussed the result. The business was ruined, and sued Oberlin, which lost, as it deserved to do.

One of the defense lawyers called the verdict “a national tipping point, ” saying,

“What the jury saw is that teaching students and having them learn how to be upstanding members of the community is what colleges are supposed to do, not appease some students who they are afraid of. People around the country should learn from this, that you can use the legal system to right the wrongs, even if the one doing the wrong is some huge institution who thinks they can do anything they want.”

Incredibly, Oberlin has refused to accept or admit it was the villain here, and appealed. Now he Ohio 9th District Court of Appeals has rejected that appeal in the Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College case.

Legal Insurrection, which has been the most thorough reporter of this classic example of higher education woke-rot, has the details. [Pointer: JutGory]


8 thoughts on “Saturday Ethics Stragglers, 4/2/2022: My First Mask Confrontation, And More

  1. 4. Can you clarify a point for me because it seems to be confusing. Did the damages get reduced during the second ruling? It seems like things went down from 32 million to 25 million.

  2. 2. Fully half of the Dean’s quoted statement is full blown Authentic Frontier Gibberish. I’m kind of stunned. I had mistakenly assumed the assholes engaging in assholery were undergrads rather than YLS students. That’s absolutely creepy that they were evidently law students. Yuck.

    • Well, yeah. And from what I read on Legal Insurrection (not an unbiased source, but still), Oberlin has slowed down the wheels of justice enough — perhaps intentionally — that two members of the Gibson family have already died before being upheld with this appeal.

      Although, if memory serves, they did live long enough to witness the original jury verdict in favor of Gibson’s.

      I don’t believe Oberlin has ever admitted any sort of liability or wrongdoing. They should be ashamed of themselves — but they aren’t. Still, a $50 million bill is kind of hard to explain to the alums…

  3. Denzel Washington’s reasoning falls well outside of Christian orthodoxy. “The devil made me do it” flies against the consistent teaching of the New Testament. Human responsibility is a frequent theme in the writings of Paul and in the Gospels.

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