Tuesdays now infamous affirmative-action bake sale at the University of California at Berkeley is unlikely to dissuade Governor Jerry Brown from signing a bill that would reintroduce race and gender preferences into the states public universities. It has nevertheless served one useful function: it has clarified just what Berkeleys vice chancellor for equity and diversity does for his whopping $194,000 annual salary.
Berkeleys College Republicans wanted their Increase Diversity Bake Sale to serve as a counterweight to a phone bank erected on the campuss main thoroughfare, where students could call Brown and urge him to sign the preference-reinstating legislation, Senate Bill 185. Like other anti-affirmative-action bake sales on college campuses over the last decade, the College Republicans sale priced items according to the race and gender of the customer: whites paid $2 for a pastry, with Latinos paying $1 and blacks 75 cents, while women got a 25-cent discount on all items.
And like all such previous bake sales, it triggered a storm of ludicrously clueless outrage. Student Devonte Jackson told the San Francisco Chronicle that the sale was inappropriate and hurtful, attacking underrepresented communities by reducing their communities to a cheaply priced good. The president of Berkeleys student government, which sponsored the pro-SB 185 phone bank, explained to CNN that the bake sale humorized and mocked the struggles of people of color on this campus. Another student government officer professed dismay at such a shocking insult to students of color. We were really taken aback and, frankly, disgusted, Joey Freeman informed the Los Angeles Times. Capping off this outpouring of what one can only hope is willful misreading, the student senate passed an emergency resolution on Sunday condemning the use of discrimination whether it is in satire or in seriousness by any student group.
Gibor Basri, Berkeleys vice chancellor for equity and diversity, could have served a valuable role here by pointing out that the bake sale was obviously a parody of racial and gender preferences, not a criticism of students themselves. Whatever one thinks about the issue of preferences, he might have said, such political theater belongs to Berkeleys once-revered tradition of free speech. Instead, Basri chose to stoke the melodramatic self-pity of todays college students. A lot of students, especially students of color, read [the bake sale] as placing a higher value on white students, Basri told the New York Times. Basri, in other words, obeyed the ironclad script for all such minor perturbations in the otherwise unbroken reign of campus political correctness. That script requires that the massive campus-diversity bureaucracy treat the delusional claims of hyperventilating students with utter seriousness. Students in the ever-expanding roster of official campus victim groups flatter themselves that by attending what is in fact the most caring, protective, and opportunity-rich institution in the history of the world, they are braving unspeakable threats to their ego and even to their physical safety. (Indeed, so desirable is this alleged threatened status that a gender and womens studies major held a sign during Tuesdays protest of the bake sale decrying the exclusion of queer people from the Republicans pricing structure.)
This supposedly toxic campus climate has engendered a nauseating rhetoric about the need for creating safe spaces for various endangered groups, who would otherwise risk utter obliteration in the tsunami of hatred and bias that daily washes over them. Reality check: no adult on todays college campuses wishes for anything more than to see females and minority students succeed to the utmost of their capacities. The overwhelming majority of students, meanwhile, are indifferent to race and gender and simply want to get along. It is hard not to attribute bad faith to Basri for his stupendously misguided interpretation of the bake sale as placing a higher value on white students. If he really is incapable of understanding such a simple satire, he does not belong in an institution of higher learning—or at least what used to pass for one. One might think that a college administrators mission would be to work for enlightenment, diffusing whatever tensions may arise from ignorance and misunderstanding. Basri has, after all, been granted an enormous piece of taxpayer largesse, commanding an expensive office of 17 staffers.
But like all such campus diversocrats, Basri is in fact a partisan in the crusade for unending identity politics, stoking tensions rather than calming them. The University of California is already wasting millions of dollars on these ever-expanding diversity sinecures. (And UC Berkeley itself has gone into the business of diversity activism, sponsoring a student-run, credit-bearing course in how to agitate for racial preferences.) If Governor Brown signs SB 185 into law (likely violating the states constitution, which, after Proposition 209, forbids granting preferential treatment on the basis of race, sex, or ethnicity), the diversity bureaucracy and its political supporters in Sacramento will have scored another victory and ensured the diversocracys future growth—as students admitted for their race, not their academic qualifications, provide the pretext for yet more vice chancellors for equity and diversity.
Heather Mac Donald is a contributing editor of City Journal and the John M. Olin Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.