A little common sense would have gone a long way.
An Ohio jury last week hit Oberlin College with a multimillion defamation verdict that should send a message to college campuses about the danger of letting angry students and social justice warriors masquerading as administrators run amok.
The jury initially ordered Oberlin College to pay $11.2 million in actual damages for the harm it caused to Gibson's bakery, a fourth-generation business that had had harmonious relations with the college for decades. Then it followed the actual damages with additional punitive damages of $33 million.
Separate from the damages, the jury also is requiring Oberlin to pay the bakery's legal fees.
All told, that's $44 million-plus in damages, a sum that will likely be reduced by one-half to one-third because of state law limiting punitive awards.
What could Oberlin officials have done to arouse such jury anger?
In November 2016, Gibson's employees spotted a patron shoplifting two bottles of wine. When they attempted to stop the shoplifter, a black student attending Oberlin, the shoplifters' friends intervened and a fight ensued.
Police were called, and arrests were made. Ultimately, the three wrongdoers pleaded guilty to criminal charges. They received no jail time and were ordered to pay restitution.
But word quickly spread that a routine case of shoplifting actually was a racist incident fueled by profiling minority students.
Students at Oberlin, an institution well known for its leftist politics, were angered, and their anger was fueled by sympathetic statements from top administrators.
Chalk it up to political correctness — or just utter stupidity — on steroids.
Protests ensued, explaining why some have characterized the controversy as a free speech matter involving students.
But it wasn't the students' conduct that led to the litigation, it was the university's decision to side with the students and economically punish Gibson's on the grounds that it was somehow a racist institution.
The bakery's lawsuit alleged libel, slander, interference with business relationships, interference with contracts, deceptive trade practices, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent hiring.
Among the defendants was an Oberlin dean — Meredith Raimondo. She allegedly distributed university fliers at protests that castigated Gibson's as a hotbed of racism. Raimondo claims she was merely passing along student-produced fliers.
It seems clear that what happened here is that college officials, rather than acting as the adults they are supposed to be, acquiesced to a student-driven false narrative alleging racism and, as a consequence, joined protesters in a protracted effort to financially ruin Gibson's.
That kind of practice may work inside the campus sandbox, a place where the real world rarely intrudes. But, as the jury found, administrators stepped far over the legal line and are being held accountable.
It will surprise no one that Oberlin officials regret the jury's verdict, but nothing else.
After the actual damages were awarded, Oberlin's general counsel sent out an email expressing disappointment that "the jury did not agree with the clear evidence our team presented" and maintaining that "colleges cannot be held liable for the independent actions of their students."
This case, of course, is not over. A lengthy appeals process lies ahead.
But Oberlin stands to pay a high price for its administrators' refusal to confront rumor and innuendo with facts. Instead, they encouraged a mob-like atmosphere and then joined in.
Cowardly administrators might contemplate the Oberlin example the next time they are tempted to opt for short-term appeasement that might carry a potentially high long-term cost.