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The brilliance of the bake sale
Affirmative Action should be based on need, not on race or gender. Why not apply preferences based on socioeconomic status?
Note: I originally wrote this on November 10, 2003.
On November 5th, the Committee for Freedom, a new IU student group, held an "affirmative action bake sale" in Dunn Meadow. Minority students rallied to the area to see this controversial display and express their views on it. In less than thirty minutes, the crowd doubled as people debated affirmative action and argued against the bake sale.
The concept was brilliant in its simplicity. Cookies were priced based on race: white makes paid the most, with other groups paying less. The point was to illustrate the students' objection to affirmative action; that it unfairly discriminated on the basis of race. The bake sale, through its discriminatory price system, made the point that different standards for people based on the color of their skin is wrong.
The manner in which the point was presented was simple, but did the bake sale oversimplify the issue? I don't think so. The bake sale itself was not intended to be the only dialogue on this issue. The point of the bake sale is to get a discussion going, and to highlight the issue of affirmative action. In that, it succeeded.
Supporters of affirmative action argue that minorities are still disadvantaged in society, and that AA is necessary to overcome these disadvantages. As I was passing through, I heard one student say that racism is still prevalent and affirmative action is necessary to overcome that. But is more discrimination in university admissions the answer to discrimination in society? No, it is not. Universities should not be giving preferences to anyone based on immutable characteristics like skin pigmentation or gender.
Is there a better way? Not all forms affirmative action are poor policies. Outreach programs to recruit minority students are a good idea. Furthermore, Affirmative Action should be based on need, not on race or gender. Why not apply preferences based on socio-economic status? Since Blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by poverty income-based affirmative action would benefit them more, achieving the same goal while focusing on people who actually need help.
Unfortunately, this event once again demonstrated the lack of respect some Leftists have for free speech. IU Junior Rahsaan Bartet "asked school officials to stop the sale after learning about it Tuesday night," according to the Indianapolis Star. The Star-Telegram in Fort Worth, Texas reported that "IU Dean of Students Dick McKaig said officials would follow up on the complaint," though he expressed doubts that it violated University policy. McKaig told me over e-mail Friday morning "it is clear no university action will be taken against the sponsors of the event."
Bartet should be ashamed of himself. His complaint stated that the bake sale would "create a climate of hostility against students of color and women and can easily turn violent." First of all, a few students selling cookies hardly creates a "climate of hostility" against students of color. Take a look at the list of organizations on campus, and the number of organizations (both student organizations and University-sponsored groups) that address minority issues on campus. Does anyone really think that a few students selling cookies would create a "climate of hostility" that is not completely negated by all these groups?
Some Leftists raised a similar complaint in September during the controversy over blog entries by Business Professor Eric Rasmusen that expressed negative views of homosexuality. I pointed out on my blog that there are many pro-homosexual groups on campus, and the comments of one professor on his personal Web site hardly creates a "hostile environment" when all of these groups (not to mention official University policies) are considered.
Some may say that the bake sale pricing system violated anti-discrimination laws. However, this is incorrect. The bake sale was not a business venture or a fundraising event, it was an act of political free speech. The pricing system itself was an integral part of that speech, as it was the prices that made the political point the organizers wished to express. Therefore, the First Amendment would override any anti-discrimination laws in this case. Any attempt to enforce anti-discrimination laws on the organizers of the bake sale would be both petty and unconstitutional.
Bartet's contention that the bake sale should have been shut down because it could "easily turn violent" is laughable. Can the Committee for Freedom be held responsible had a few thugs acted in a violent manner in response to the protest? The bake sale was certainly provocative, but it was provocative in a way that furthered the debate on affirmative action. Political free speech that encourages an energetic debate is healthy, not harmful.
The "affirmative action bake sale" served two valuable purposes. First, it brought the debate on affirmative action to the front of people's minds and caused them to think about the issue and their own views on it. Second, it exposed the extremist fringe of the campus Left for the anti-freedom whiners they are. For that, the Committee for Freedom should be commended.