Affirmative Action in the United States and India: A Comparative Perspective

By Thomas E. Weisskopf | Go to book overview

Preface

My interest in writing this book has two primary sources-one going back to the early years of my academic career, and the other much more recent. During the 1960s I spent a total of four years in India, teaching economics at the Indian Statistical Institute and working on problems of economic development planning. During that time I developed great affection for and appreciation of the people and the cultures of India; and for many years thereafter my teaching and research was oriented to the political economy of that fascinating sub-continental nation. By the early 1980s, however, my focus had shifted to other parts of the world; and I did not visit India for two decades after a brief trip to New Delhi in 1980.

In 1996 I accepted an appointment as Director of the Residential College at the University of Michigan. One year later, two lawsuits were filed against the affirmative action admissions policies of the university, and the growing national debate over affirmative action came to be focused on the Michigan campus. As a social scientist as well as an administrator, I became increasingly interested and involved in issues relating to racial/ethnic diversity in higher education. I was certainly predisposed to favor affirmative action policies; but I was also conscious of some of the negative consequences to which such policies could give rise. I began to acquaint myself with the literature on the subject and found myself participating increasingly in discussions and debates about affirmative action.

In looking forward to a year of leave in 2001-2, I had been hoping to start a new research project that would renew my acquaintance with India while drawing on my background as an economist and my interest in controversial policy issues. I was aware of the fact that India had been practicing a form of affirmative action for a considerably longer time than the US; but in my earlier years I had never paid much attention to issues of race, caste, or ethnicity-much less the details of India's "reservation policies" on behalf of "backward classes." Here, then, was a marvelous opportunity for me to return my attention to India. I would undertake a research project designed to shed new light on a controversial contemporary issue through a comparative analysis of affirmative action policies in the US and reservation policies in India. After two

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