Washington UPDATE: Senate Affirmative Action Review Includes Higher Education

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Washington UPDATE: Senate Affirmative Action Review Includes Higher. Education

The U.S. Senate's controversial series of hearings on affirmative action got underway last month by opening with a detailed briefing of the policy's importance and role within American higher education.

"Some of the laws are conflicting and contradictory and exceedingly difficult to interpret," said Dr. Reginald Wilson, a senior scholar at the American Council on Education (ACE). Wilson cited a litany of statistics on student enrollment and faculty to document the underrepresentation of African Americans and other groups.

He said enrollment of African Americans dropped precipitously from 1980 to 1992 at many leading institutions, including declines of 35 percent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 19 percent at Columbia University and 15 percent at Stanford University.

White women, said Wilson, represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, but only 26 percent of all college faculty. Minority women account for just 4 percent of all faculty at colleges and universities.

"Neither group is proportionately represented. Ending affirmative action would seriously impede the progress of white women, but it would have a devastating impact on the precarious hold minority women have on faculty positions," said Wilson.

As a positive guide, Wilson urged committee members to look at the strong support many businesses provide to affirmative action.

Business leaders "are well ahead of the higher education elites in accepting affirmative action as sound policy," he said. One example he gave is that quality affirmative action programs make a company more appealing to investors, while discrimination complaints make companies much less appealing.

According to Wilson, "about 40 percent" of officials in the U.S. Conference of Mayors said affirmative action programs improved job efficiency and productivity. …