In 2009, previous Bucknell University President Brian Mitchell dealt with an “affirmative action bakesale” orchestrated by a conservative student group. In an attempt to satirize the university’s affirmative action policies, the student group charged different cupcake pricesbased on the customer’s race. As the WSJ reported, white and Asian males might be charged $1 for a cupcake, while black and Latino males might be charged 50 cents.
The university immediately shut down the event, claiming it was due to technical “paperwork discrepancies” in registering the bakesale. The university’s move incited many phone calls, letters, and protests. In particular, it caught the attention of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), who placed Bucknell on their Red Alert list.
Less than a week ago, FIRE sent an open letter (reprinted below) to President Bravman urging him to strengthen Bucknell’s free speech policies:
November 11, 2010
President John C. Bravman
220 Marts Hall
Lewisburg, Pennsylvania 17837
Sent via U.S. Mail and Facsimile (570-577-3369)
Dear President Bravman:
I am reaching out to you because tonight, Bucknell University again will be featured on national television due to its violations of its own promises of free expression. While I know that Bucknell does not agree with our characterization of past events, and we assert that the factual record is plainly on our side, I hope we can take this opportunity to put our disagreements over those events behind us.
As FIRE’s June 18 and September 1 letters to you explained, Bucknell maintains two policies that must be revised in order for FIRE to remove Bucknell from our Red Alert list. One, a campus-wide Sales and Promotions policy, requires preregistration and preapproval of “promotions” of “causes.” The other, an unwritten policy promulgated by General Counsel Wayne A. Bromfield, prohibits expressive, political bake sales such as “affirmative action” and “gender wage gap” bake sales, even when the pricing is optional and satirical.
Despite our sharp disagreements about the incidents that occurred under the previous Bucknell president, I would like nothing more than to remove Bucknell from our Red Alert list. Yet, I cannot do this unless the university revises these policies. If Bucknell were to do so, we would be thrilled to acknowledge the change and give great credit to your new administration. Whether you like “affirmative action” and “gender wage gap” bake sales or not, you might not know that they have been held at dozens of universities across the country without serious incident and have resulted in engaged, thought-provoking discussions on contentious national issues. At some colleges, students have held their own counter-protest bake sales, demonstrating the principle that speech one dislikes should be countered with more speech, not censorship. I believe you will find that if you honor Bucknell’s free speech promises and trust Bucknell students to exercise their right to engage in meaningful debate on contentious issues, the debate will benefit, not harm, the intellectual rigor and discourse on your campus.
With my best wishes during the celebration of your inauguration this week,
President Bravman has promised he will get to the bottom of this legal issue, but has not indicated what course of action he is planning on taking. For now, cupcake sales must wait.