Oberlin College has withdrawn a subpoena seeking journalistic communications from a conservative website that has reported extensively on race hoaxes and social-justice activism at the Ohio liberal arts college.
The news outlet, Legal Insurrection, sought a court order protecting its communications on July 5, and Oberlin’s counsel withdrew the subpoena on Wednesday.
William A. Jacobson, a professor at Cornell Law School and the editor of the Legal Insurrection blog, said the subpoena posed a threat to the freedom of press.
“Allowing persons or entities that have been the subject of news reporting to pry into the communications of the journalists covering them will have a chilling effect on the ability of journalists to report on matters of public interest,” Mr. Jacobson said in a statement. “That is why the law, at least in New York, protects journalist records.”
Oberlin sought communications between Legal Insurrection and sources related to the website’s reporting on the lawsuit between the school and Gibson’s Bakery.
The bakery sued Oberlin last year after students, faculty and staff allegedly waged a “public relations campaign” against the store, accusing it of racially profiling three Oberlin students who were caught shoplifting on Nov. 9, 2016.
All three students would go on to plead guilty to charges of attempted theft and aggravated trespassing. Each student read a statement in court acknowledging that the bakery’s actions were not racially motivated.
In the wake of the arrests, Oberlin students launched protests and boycotts against the bakery.
The lawsuit contends that the administration encouraged the actions of the students, despite a police investigation that found a “complete lack of any evidence of racism.”
The college canceled its contract with Gibson’s Bakery following the protests. Business relations were later reinstated, but canceled again after the bakery filed the lawsuit.
In a Nov. 11 letter to the student body, President Marvin Krislov and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo suggested there was “more to the story than what has been generally reported.”
“We are dedicated to a campus and community that treats all faculty, staff and students fairly and without discrimination,” they wrote in the letter. “We expect that our community businesses and friends share the same values and commitments.”
Members of the Oberlin faculty and staff also allegedly circulated a flyer calling for a boycott, which said Gibson’s Bakery is a “RACIST establishment with a LONG ACCOUNT of RACIAL PROFILING and DISCRIMINATION.”
Prospective students on campus tours were also allegedly told not to shop at Gibson’s Bakery because it is a “racist establishment” that “assaults students.”
In the lawsuit, Gibson’s Bakery said Oberlin was attempting to “bully and financially strangle a century-old local business for refusing to succumb to the College’s demand that Gibson’s ignore student shoplifting.”
Oberlin denied the allegation and said it would fight the lawsuit.