Baking With Fire
The enemies of campus bake sales are at it again, inflaming one another over the dire threat of cupcakes and cookies sold at different prices to whites, minorities, and women. The sales are political parody, of course, poking fun at affirmative action policies and trying to get a debate going. Campus orthodoxy holds that such policies are sacred and that any dissent, even in the form of satirical cookie prices, is illegitimate and deserving of suppression.
When members of a Republican club staged a bake sale March 21 at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich., several students said they were offended. This amounted to a powerful argument, since hurt feelings are trump cards in the campus culture. Next came the usual scramble to suppress free speech while expressing great respect for it. The normal campus method in such cases is to define free speech as narrowly as possible, while pointing to broad and vague anti-discrimination rules.
Proving that muddled thinking is not confined to campuses, the Detroit Free Press weighed in with an editorial denouncing the bake sale as "tasteless" and perhaps deserving of disciplinary action. The university charged the club with a violation of the student code and threatened sanctions. The students folded under pressure from the administration and issued an apology. When the president of the group refused to back down, he was asked to resign and did. The students' retreat is understandable, if not very courageous. The university was in effect putting them on trial for bias, with the likelihood that a notation of racial discrimination would become part of their academic record and follow them to post-college job interviews. This is a major example of a politically correct college abusing its power.
In Chicago, the College Republicans at Northeastern Illinois University canceled an affirmative action bake sale after the administration warned that they would be punished if they went ahead. Dean of Students Michael Kelly announced that the cookie sellers would be in violation of university rules and that "any disruption of university activities that would be caused by this event is also actionable." This seemed to promise that if opponents of the sale conducted a riot, the Republicans would be held responsible. The university did not understand it was dealing in viewpoint discrimination (it did not object to a satirical wage-gap bake sale run by feminists). Kelly said the affirmative action sale would be allowed if cookie prices were the same for whites, minorities, and women. So the university was willing to tolerate a bit of satire as long as all satirical content was removed.
The Philadelphia-based Foundation for Individual Rights in Education stepped in, reminding the university that forbidding political expression is clearly unconstitutional. Under pressure from FIRE, the university backed down, issuing no public statement but allowing the bake sale. FIRE is also looking into attempts to suppress a bake sale at Eastern Washington University. In this case, an outside group of the left, the Center for Justice, threatened suit on grounds that the campus sale would violate state anti-discrimination laws.