Why Faculty Preference Is for No Preference

Article excerpt

A recent poll by the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research finds a majority of the nation's higher-education faculty opposed to racial and gender preferences in student admissions and faculty employment. Even more surprising, nearly two-thirds of 800 faculty members interviewed would support a ban on preferences similar to the recently passed California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), Proposition 209.

The higher-education establishment would have us believe otherwise. Not only did organizations such as the American Council of Learned Societies make their principled opposition to CCRI widely known, but the American Association of University Professors took the unprecedented step of an expensive lobbying effort to defeat CCRI - bankrolled by the same dues-paying members who feel themselves increasingly uncomfortable about preferences in higher education. Much the same is true of university and college presidents who rushed to judgment about CCRI without accurate data about the faculties they represent. Apparently the rank-and-file just don't matter.

What the poll makes clear - often by wide margins - is a yawning gap between views faculty members are supposed to have and those they actually hold. When asked if they believed their own institutions had formal or informal policies that grant preference to student and faculty applicants on the basis of gender, race, or ethnicity, 80 percent of those familiar with their institutions' internal procedures felt "preference" played a significant role. Interestingly enough, these same professors suggested such preferences made "no difference" - in terms of improvement or decline - at their institutions. So their opposition to preferences was not based on the usual litany of fears about declining standards or hopes about improvement via diversity that are often at the center of public debate. Rather, the professors registered their sense of fundamental fairness - along with increasing discomfort about Draconian measures that sometimes move equality of opportunity to equality of result. …