By Emmett Berg
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Student Republicans at the University of California at Berkeley have stirred up the famously left-wing campus with plans for a sale of baked goods priced according to the race and gender of buyers.
A Facebook promotion of the event, set for Tuesday, has drawn cries of racism and misogyny on the social networking site, and student body president Vishalli Loomba called what the Berkeley College Republicans were doing offensive.
The school's chancellor, Robert Birgeneau, weighed in on Monday night with an open letter condemning the planned bake sale as contrary to campus "Principles of Community" that call for debate to be conducted in a respectful manner.
Organizers say their "Increase Diversity Bake Sale" is meant as satiric political commentary on newly passed legislation that would allow California's public universities to once again consider the race, gender, ethnicity and national origin of admissions applicants.
The sale is slated to take place between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. near the location of a campus phone bank set up by supporters of the bill, SB 185, to lobby for Governor Jerry Brown to sign the measure into law.
The original Facebook post for the event said pastries sold at the event would be priced at $2 each for white customers, $1.50 for buyers of Asian descent, $1 for Latinos, 75 cents for black customers and 25 cents for Native Americans. All women would get a 25 cent discount.
The post said the pricing structure was designed to "ensure the equitable distribution of BAKED GOODS to our DIVERSE! student body."
Loomba said Berkeley "students are talking about this everywhere I go."
"They've been able to get a lot of publicity, but at what cost? They are creating an environment of divisiveness," she told Reuters. "You can't justify doing something this offensive and making students of this school feel uncomfortable."
While enactment of SB 185 does not require university admissions officers to give preferential treatment to applicants on the basis of race or gender, it would allow them to consider such factors.
A statewide ballot measure approved by California voters in 1996 banned the use of race and gender preferences in state university admissions, hiring and contracting. The California Supreme Court upheld its constitutionality last August.
SB 185 was presented to Brown on September 9 and becomes law in 30 days even without his signature, unless he vetoes it.
Berkeley's student government passed a resolution in support of SB 185 last week, and organized the telephone lobbying effort on its behalf, prompting the Berkeley College Republicans to plan their bake sale.
On Sunday, the student government unanimously passed a resolution decrying the College Republicans' move.
In his letter Monday night, the chancellor said the issue was not the group's opinions, but how they were expressed.
"The issue is not whether one thinks an action is satirical or inoffensive, the issue is whether community members will be intentionally -- or unintentionally -- hurt or demeaned by that action," Birgeneau wrote, adding, "intelligent debate is based on mutual respect."
Leaders of the student Republicans were not immediately available for comment. But the group's president, Shawn Lewis, said in a statement posted on its website that "physical threats" were made against organizers of the bake sale, including suggestions that cupcakes would be purchased and then hurled back in protest.
"Threatening and political intimidation should not be part of the (campus) community," Lewis said. "What I have seen and heard in response to the Berkeley College Republicans' 'Increase Diversity Bake Sale' has been far from healthy disagreement or challenging of ideas."
In addition to the phone bank, a free giveaway of baked goods, called Conscious Cupcakes, was planned as a riposte to the College Republicans' sale. Conscious Cupcakes' Facebook page indicated "641 attending."
(Additional reporting by Greg Lucas in Sacramento, Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)