Affirmative Action, the Academy and Compromised Standards: Does Affirmative Action Lower Standards in University Hiring, Tenure and Promotion?

By Hanks, Lawrence J.; Sullivan, Jas et al. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Affirmative Action, the Academy and Compromised Standards: Does Affirmative Action Lower Standards in University Hiring, Tenure and Promotion?


Hanks, Lawrence J., Sullivan, Jas, Spencer, Sara B., Rogers, Elgin, Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Affirmative Action and the Academy: Have standards been lowered?

The literature opposed to affirmative action in hiring, granting tenure and promotion in the university claims that it lowers standards. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that in the decades prior to the institutionalization of affirmative action in the Academy, hiring, tenure and promotion standards were quite lax--resembling an "old boy's network." With the advent of affirmative action and the access of the academic market to candidates of both genders and diverse racial groups, came an institutionalization of specified--and therefore higher--standards for hiring and tenure of faculty. Thus, affirmative action has not had a negative impact on standards; ironically, it has led to the creation of standards. Therefore, because of affirmative action, all candidates today (even those that directly benefit from affirmative action) meet higher standards for hiring and assigning tenure than existed in the pre-affirmative action period. The purpose of this study is to test that hypothesis using email surveys of Emeriti faculty of the College of Arts and Sciences at a large Midwestern University.

Literature Review

"Affirmative action" is a name that has been applied to a set of policies generated by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by a series of executive orders issued by President Lyndon Johnson. (1) In the 1970s, with the peak expansion of the US higher education system, a moral and legal movement to make universities more inclusive was instituted. (2) By 1972, a number of important actions supporting diversity had taken place. According to Helen S. Astin and Mary Beth Snyder,

Nineteen seventy-two will be remembered as an important year in the development of affirmative action programs for women in education: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was extended to include all educational institutions; the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was extended to cover executive, administrative, and professional employment: Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 was enacted prohibiting sex discrimination in education; and HEW issued guidelines to higher education for the implementation of the Executive Order 11246. The intent of this and other legislation was to increase the representation of women and minorities in educational institutions. (3)

Affirmative action as a policy initiative is politically controversial; it has spawned a significant amount of scholarship from both opponents and proponents. (4) In its least controversial sense, affirmative action in the university refers to a set of positive procedural requirements that employers or admissions officers must meet to ensure that their pool of candidates is representative of some larger body, such as the overall pool of qualified personnel in the region. These requirements may include open advertising of positions as well as attempts to inform members of groups that are underrepresented in the applicant pool of the opportunities available to them. (5) This procedural form of affirmative action has been relatively uncontroversial. However, other affirmative action policies in the university have been less accepted.

Affirmative action is now an integral part of the appointment process at virtually every college and university in the United States. (6) Announcements of available faculty positions routinely include statements such as "[The University] is an equal opportunity, affirmative action employer which actively seeks and encourages nominations of, and expressions of interest from, minority and female candidates." (7) Every search committee is expected to conduct its activities in accord with federal affirmative action guidelines, and typically compliance is monitored by a school's Office of Affirmative action. (8) Moreover, affirmative action has also been employed in most universities in tenure standards, in order to "require that departments and schools pay attention to possible existing discriminatory barriers or biases," and "demand that they take corrective action where necessary. …

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