In light of the Berkeley College Republicans’ bake sale controversy, Gov. Jerry Brown’s recent veto of SB 185 and the subsequent emergence of widespread discussion on the UC Berkeley campus, a panel of five speakers discussed the legal implications of affirmative action in education Wednesday night.The event, which was organized by the Legal Forum Committee of Phi Alpha Delta, a UC Berkeley pre-law fraternity, drew up to 60 audience members on the seventh floor of Eshleman Hall. Each panelist was given 10 to 15 minutes to speak, and the audience was invited to asked questions at the end. Some of the topics discussed were the legality of affirmative action, SB 185 and Proposition 209, the Berkeley College Republicans’ “Increase Diversity Bake Sale” and the role of race and socioeconomic status in college admissions.
“How do you accommodate the multiplicity of the kinds of humanity with the idea that the law should be mutual for everybody?” asked Hans Sluga, a philosophy professor at UC Berkeley.
Diane Schachterle, director of policy and planning for the American Civil Rights Institute, which she described as a nonprofit organization that educates the public about the harms of race preferences, responded to the idea that affirmative action is necessary to fulfill the 14th Amendment.
“I’m a little mystified by this — treating people equally does not violate the 14th Amendment,” she said. “It is the 14th Amendment.”
Schachterle mentioned that bills with language similar to SB 185 — which would have allowed the UC system to consider race, ethnic origin and other demographic factors in college admissions — have gone through the legislature four times but have ultimately never been made into law because they are illegal.
Even if passed, SB 185 would not have even fixed the real problem, said Gibor Basri, UC Berkeley’s vice chancellor for equity and inclusion. He said only repealing Proposition 209 — which made affirmative action illegal in California — would help address historical inequalities.
“This is really a political question — it’s not really a legal question, in my opinion,” he said.
Before Brown vetoed SB 185 this month, the ASUC Senate endorsed the bill and sponsored a phone bank in support of it, prompting the Berkeley College Republicans to sponsor a satirical “Bake Sale to Increase Diversity.”
Joey Freeman, external affairs vice president of the ASUC, said that while he was not concerned about the legality of the bake sale, which took place in Sproul Plaza in September, the event had a racist nature that hurt many students and faculty members.
“Divisive events tear our campus apart,” he said. “The discourse around affirmative action has been one of alienation, not cooperation.”
However, Shawn Lewis, president of the Berkeley College Republicans and organizer of the event, said the point of the bake sale was to encourage conversation on campus because the response to SB 185 on campus was largely one-sided.
“I would have to say it’s a failure of imagination if one has to use a tactic that was offensive to a great number of students to achieve the intended outcome,” Basri said. “Is it worth that debate if you have to be offensive to a number of students?”
Although there was a general consensus among the panelists that economic status should be used in college admissions, the role of race and ethnic identity was more ambiguous.
Freeman emphasized that SB 185 would not have reinstated affirmative action but would have increased diversity in the UC system by creating a student body more representative of the demographics of California.
“I think it is not only an injustice but a failure in social thinking and policy making — there shouldn’t be so many educationally underprivileged in this country,” Hans said. “I challenge you to answer this question: Can this country afford to let such a portion of our population go by the wayside?”
Lewis said that race-based affirmative action would put people in the system not necessarily prepared to succeed at rigorous schools like UC Berkeley. He mentioned that any form of race preferences is racism.
“It’s ludicrous to argue that race has no place in American society — I don’t think my opponents are saying that, but they are choosing to focus on equality going forward and not inequality of the past,” Basri said. “That’s a moral choice — you can choose to ignore it, or you can choose to address it.”