The Berkeley bake sale: A better idea is discounts for the poor
I look at the Berkeley brouhaha -- in which campus Republicans are holding an anti-affirmative-action bake sale, giving sardonic discounts on cookies to ethnic minorities and women -- somewhat differently from my colleague Michael McGough. As a free-enterprise nation, we value meritocracy; as a justice-minded nation, we also worry, or at least should worry, about truly equal opportunity and rectifying the situation when people have been denied that opportunity.
The reason we see see proportionately smaller numbers of black and Latino students at the University of California is because they don't, for the most part, have an equal opportunity. In part because of past discrimination, they are more likely to be poor and to attend low-performing schools. Until a few years ago, some of those schools, right here in Los Angeles, didn't even offer the courses required by the UC or California State University schools. Some of the teachers in these schools sat in the back of the classroom reading the newspaper while showing their students movies -- movies that had nothing to do with the curriculum; they were simply intended to keep the kids quiet. Advanced Placement courses? Forget it.
Our society, then, created a situation in which large numbers of minority students were hard put to demonstrate their smarts, talent and hard work to admissions committees. Why not, then, base admissions in part on poverty and low-performing schools? The schools should be able to take into consideration whether a student is from a low-income family and attends a school that hasn't offered the same opportunities, as long as he or she shows the ability to tackle university work. That would be fair to all students who face these real educational handicaps. The reality, to our own society's shame, is that a disproportionate number of these students will be black, Latino or Native American. So the cookie discounts should go to the poor, and guess who those are most likely to be?
To a limited extent, UC already has similar policies. It accepts the top few percent of each high school in the state and can give special review to students who have overcome particular hardships in life. The numbers of black and Latino students at UC schools show us that this policy could be expanded. As for the policies of the cookie-sellers, I can't say.
Photo: A student who identified herself as "Hannah" sells baked goods during a bake sale led by the Berkeley College Republicans Sept. 27. Credit: Ben Margot / AP Photo