Like any good story, this one begins on an early spring day in a peaceful meadow full of fruit, vegetables—and most importantly, nine baby lambs.
Dr. David Nibert, a sociology professor at Wittenberg University, stumbled upon the lambs in May, while strolling near the campus of Antioch College, a private liberal arts school in the western Ohio town of Yellow Springs.
“You know what it’s like when you see a puppy who’s lost, or a baby kitten? Who knows what happened to them, and they’re without their mothers,” said Nibert. “I just sat down and spent some time with them—these gentle, innocent animals.”
Then, to his horror, Nibert discovered that his new friends were destined for the slaughterhouse.
And so, an idea was born.
“I thought: ‘I need to become an advocate for these lambs,’” he told The Daily Beast on Friday.
Nibert, who lives across the street from Antioch’s president, reached out to try and save the lives of the animals, who are part of the “living laboratory” on the Antioch College Farm.
Food for the community is grown on the farm, where the school said students can also get practical experience in sustainable and ecologically appropriate agriculture, Cleveland.com reported. All of the farm’s products, including vegetables, fruits, herbs, chickens, and ducks, reportedly go toward feeding students in the dining hall, which sits fewer than 2,000 feet away.
Even still, Nibert said he “thought for sure that Antioch will see clearly that they need to release them for sanctuary.”
“I said I’d even be willing to compensate them for the lambs,” he added.
But Nibert was rebuffed. In a letter sent to Nibert on July 3 by Antioch College President Tom Manley, which was reviewed by The Daily Beast, Manley thanked him for “giving thought” to the school but said they had decided to stick with the plan to kill the lambs for food.
“Antioch’s practices reflect a thoughtful, integrative approach to environmental and ecosystem management and have been recognized for doing so nationally,” Manley wrote.
“They seek to educate by offering pragmatic, knowledge-based solutions to the daunting global challenges we face with regard to developing and sustaining healthy food systems. They support a reasonable range of personal dietary preferences in our kitchens and they respect the right of individuals to make choices for themselves from what is offered, including seasonally, meat from the sheep (and chickens and ducks) that are kept on the farm,” Manley added.
He continued: “On the matter of the sheep, at this point I have made the college’s position clear and will have nothing further to offer in response.”
But Nibert, who promotes abolitionist veganism, wasn’t giving up that easily. This wasn’t his first animal rights rodeo. The professor has written about the subject at length, including in his 2002 book Animal Rights/Human Rights, his 2013 book Animal Oppression and Human Violence, and his 2017 book Animal Oppression and Capitalism.
Once Nibert’s idea was refused by the school’s president, he took to the streets.
Nibert posted fliers and began speaking to students and alumni. Though he was garnering increased support for his cause, Nibert received a cease-and-desist order on July 22—which was reviewed by The Daily Beast—from Antioch College that called his fliers a “nuisance” and asked him to stop posting them on campus.
So, Nibert formed a Committee to Save the Antioch Lambs. He took out an ad in the local newspaper, which was reportedly signed by more than 100 scholars, asking that the school consider sparing the animals’ lives.
One of Nibert’s supporters, Corey Wrenn—chair of the Animals & Society Section of the American Sociological Association—wrote a letter to the Yellow Springs News calling the college’s rationale for raising and slaughtering the lambs “deeply problematic and, frankly, uninformed.”
“With climate change at crisis levels, it is frankly laughable that the university would suggest that animal agriculture is in any way compatible with goals of sustainability,” Wrenn wrote. “The science simply does not support such a claim.”
“Lambs are not things, they are not tools, and they are not food,” she continued. “They are persons who care about what happens to them, just like us.”
Nibert even created a Change.org petition which had, by press time, received more than 7,000 signatures.
“The college is using the lambs as ‘living lawnmowers’ in a field of solar panels, but later this summer the college will kill the lambs and feed them to students,” Nibert’s petition stated. “The use and impending death of the lambs is hailed by the college as a lesson in the production of ‘real’ food.”
“But the lambs are not carrots and turnips,” Nibert wrote.
Several people who signed the petition offered to re-home the lambs; others expressed varying degrees of outrage.
One supporter wrote: “IGNORANT UNCOMPROMISING COLLEGE!! YOU NEED TO LEARN SOME COMPASSION & FLEXIBILITY . TOTALLY NO NEED TO HAVE THESE LAMBS SLAUGHTERED ! POOR EXAMPLE TO YOUR STUDENTS ...VIOLENCE!”
“Is this how you teach students about compassion?” asked another person. “No wonder why there are so many school shootings in this country. Lambs are actually not food. They are living, emotional, sentient beings who feel pain.”
“It’s 2019,” wrote another supporter. “Wake up.”
But the college has accused the professor and his supporters, in their efforts to free the lambs, of using an overwhelming campaign of social media, phone calls, and emails to force them to acquiesce to a set of strict ethical guidelines inconsistent with the school’s policies.
And a spokesperson from the school disputes Nibert’s timeline of events.
“We first became aware of Dr. Nibert’s position in late May when the local newspaper published a letter he penned to the editor,” the spokesman told The Daily Beast.
“Dr. Nibert’s message is ‘we want you to do what we say you should do,’ disallowing our ability to think for ourselves and for students to make their own ethical decisions,” he said, in an email. “Unfortunately the tactics used in this instance—which have not fully acknowledged the complete facts around our progressive programs—have incited hateful rhetoric and harassment of employees and students from outside of the area.”
“Antioch College’s campus practices are based on scientific inquiry and best practices, not opinions,” said the spokesman. “Eating less meat or no meat is not the only or sole way to solve our climate crisis… There are good examples across this country and around the world of responsible, sustainable, and humane animal husbandry. Unless the eating of meat is altogether in question, Antioch College’s practices are on the leading edge.”
But the anger, Nibert said, came from both sides. The professor claimed he’s been attacked by people in the town of Yellow Springs, who have “mocked” and “ridiculed” him at the alleged urging of Antioch College.
“I’m not aggressive,” said Nibert, who told The Daily Beast he was surprised at the alleged vitriol directed at him personally. “I’ve always been polite and respectful of people.”
“First and foremost, everyone is just focused on keeping these nine souls out of the slaughterhouse,” he said.
“It’s a shame that one of the most progressive colleges probably in the history of the United States is also now involved in the raising and killing of animals,” said Nibert. “At this moment in time, the state of these nine lambs is very important.”
“If we can’t get Antioch College to recognize that this is wrong, it’s bad for the world,” he added.