Affirmative Action Still Saddled with Negative Image: Bad-Mouthing by Beneficiaries Baffles Many

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Affirmative Action Still Saddled With Negative Image: Bad-Mouthing By. Beneficiaries Baffles Many

by May-Christine Phillip

The outcry over affirmative action has hardened into quiet resentment -- even intolerance -- toward those who are seen as beneficiaries.

Yet, if affirmative action is measured by the number of minority college presidents, vice presidents, trustees, administrators and students present and accounted for at most institutions today, "...we have still not moved beyond the need for such programs in the academy," says Dr. Herbert Hill of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

"If you look at the statistics across-the-board, you will see that there are significant disparities at many major institutions. We need specific remedies based on a specific analysis of the disparities at each institution. There is too much generalization."

Hill, a professor of industrial relations and Afro-American studies, who has served as a special consultant to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), contends that it is "high time" for colleges and universities to make a true commitment to affirmative action.

Dr. Gerald Early, a professor of English and director of the Department of African and Afro-American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, MO, agrees. He is convinced that "the media have blown affirmative action gains out of proportion.

"Even middle-class Blacks -- some Black intellectuals in particular -- who have benefited most from such programs have been turning against affirmative action in recent years. It's baffling."

One of the loudest critics of affirmative action is Dr. Shelby Steele, a professor of English at California's San Jose State University. Steele, who is on leave from the university, was unavailable for comment. Another carper, Dr. Walter Williams, an economist at George Mason University in Virginia has expressed support for some aspects of affirmative action, but has stated: "Today, affirmative action means something very much like quotas."

For Dr. Abigail Thernstrom, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an adjunct professor in the school of education at Boston University, it's quotas and more. She argues that the road to true equality should no longer be paved with favoritism toward a particular race.

"But, there is a double standard which leads to a lowering of the generally accepted standards for certain institutions. It's creating bad feelings on campus.

"There is no hope of getting beyond the double standard unless the pool of Black and Hispanic Ph.D.s becomes larger. We have minuscule numbers of them in critical fields and you have more than 3,000 institutions competing to fill affirmative action spots. So the standards are not going to be the same, and the pay is not going to be the same," Thernstrom says.

She continues: "In the hiring process, if there is a requirement for tenure slots to have one major book published with a respectable press, that requirement is waived for Blacks and Hispanics. In the bidding war for Black and Hispanic faculty, there is preferential treatment. Institutions pay them more money than whites who are more qualified because they are glad to have someone with the right skin color."

Thernstrom's contention is just part of the misconception about affirmative action, says Ruth Jones, assistant to the president for equal opportunity at Old Dominion University in Virginia.

"As for tenure, I don't believe institutions lower their standards to accommodate Black and Hispanic faculty members. As for salary, everyone knows that it is a competitive market. It's all about supply and demand. The demand for Black and Hispanic faculty members is high, and supply is limited. As a result, people can pretty much set their prices. There's nothing wrong with that," Jones says.

Cloud of Suspicion

In his book, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, Stephen Carter, a professor of law at Yale University, spoke for many when he wrote: "Those of us who have graduated from professional school over the past 15 to 20 years and are not white, travel career paths that are frequently bumpy with suspicion that we did not earn our right to be where we are. …