More on the Wesleyan Bake Sale

Ward Connerly, founder and chairman of the American Civil rights Initiative, a group opposed to race and gender preferences, spoke yesterday at Wesleyan University, in the wake of controversy over an affirmative action bake sale there satirizing preferences in college admissions. He spoke without a text, but we asked for an account of what he said, and this is what he sent:

When former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor cast her opinion in the cases of Gratz and Grutter vs. the University of Michigan, in 2003, she imposed what some saw as a death penalty on race preferences. Although she supported the use of race to achieve “diversity” in higher education, O’Connor said that such practices must end and she hoped that such would happen in twenty-five years. Throughout the nation, that sentence is now slowly, but methodically, being executed. Significantly, Justice O’Connor wrote that we cannot enshrine into our laws something that the Constitution barely tolerates.
In Arizona, California, Michigan, Nebraska and the state of Washington, the voters have placed into their constitutions, through ballot initiatives a prohibition against the use of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in public education, public employment and public contracting. In Florida, an executive order accomplishes much of the same. These initiatives strongly confirm that if given the chance the people of America would end race preferences instantly instead of waiting until 2028.

The debate about “affirmative action” (race preferences) has become quite intense. To some extent, this is because the supporters of affirmative action sense its impending demise and are doing all that they can to preserve it.
The people are also acting in another way: they are expressing themselves in venues throughout the nation, such as sponsoring “bake sales” on college campuses to ridicule through satire the practices of classifying and distributing benefits to students in a differential manner based on race and ethnicity. While I am not a fan of “bake sales,” because they stigmatize many students who may not have received the benefits of affirmative action, the villains in this instance are not the sponsors of the events, but rather the circumstances to which the bake sales draw attention.
As affirmative action approaches its fiftieth anniversary next year, it must be understood that political correctness is responsible for that longevity. What we are now seeing is that more Americans are fed up with having to keep their mouths shut about things that they regard as wrong. For example, the head of the cab drivers association in New York recently said that the overwhelming majority of crimes affecting NYC cab drivers are perpetrated by blacks and Latinos. Whether that is factually correct or not (and I have no reason to doubt it), the fact that he made such a statement in defiance of political correctness is remarkable.
It is critical to our nation that we return to the principle of individual merit as the “gold standard” for university admissions, employment and contracting decisions. For merit to be an effective standard, individuals have to believe that if they work hard to compete, the contest will not be rigged against them. Otherwise, they will not work as hard. Thus, claims of “reverse discrimination” by white males must be taken as seriously as claims of discrimination by women and minorities.
Throughout the nation, I hear that “this diversity thing has gotten out of control,” as individuals perceive a reduction in quality at various levels in the private as well as public sectors. Those who say that aren’t objecting to the fact that people of different backgrounds are present, they object to the path that was used to achieve it. “Diversity” is overwhelming merit and diminishing the quality of goods and services.
The bake sale that was held on this campus must be viewed in this larger context. It was not driven by racism, but by a desire to end what its sponsors saw as racist behavior in using race classifications throughout American life.


  • John Leo

    John Leo is the editor of Minding the Campus, dedicated to chronicling imbalances within higher education and restoring intellectual pluralism to our American universities. His popular column, "On Society," ran in U.S.News & World Report for 17 years.

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