Affirmative Action and the University: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Higher Education Employment

By Gudeman, Roxane Harvey | Academe, January/February 2001 | Go to article overview

Affirmative Action and the University: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Higher Education Employment


Gudeman, Roxane Harvey, Academe


Affirmative Action and the University: Race, Ethnicity, And Gender in Higher Education Employment

Kul B. Rai and John W. Critzer. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000, 250 pp., $45

POLITICAL SCIENTISTS KUL RAI AND John Critzer center their book around the concept of "representative bureaucracy," by which they mean that a bureaucracy that represents the range of people in a society will be more responsive and fairer to all than a less representative bureaucracy. They argue that in the recent past, politicians and courts began to judge whether an organization was representative of the populace by looking at the distribution of categories of people in the group. If, for example, the proportion of men and women in an organization approximated those found in the pool of potential employees or the population at large, then the organization was determined to be "fair." But (to take another example) if members of minority groups were underrepresented, affirmative action could be used to redress a distribution that was assumed to exist because of past discrimination. Of course, this justification for affirmative action is under vigorous challenge, with some courts holding that affirmafive action can be used only to redress an imbalance created by overt, provable acts of discrimination. There is also the familiar argument that affirmative action discriminates against white men.

The authors hypothesized that affirmative action should have had a greater impact on employment in higher education in the public sector than in private institutions. They further hypothesized that the commitment of state political leaders to affirmative action, predicted by such factors as political party affiliation, population demographics, the condition of the state's economy, and regional history, would correlate with the relative success of states in creating "representative bureaucracies" within the ranks of faculty, administration, and staff in public colleges and universities.

Rai and Critzer tested these hypotheses using employment data from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for the years 1979, 1983, and 1991. They used two key statistics: participation rates, the percentage of persons in a particular category at an institution; and representation ratios, the participation rate divided by the percentage of persons in the same category in the state population. In Maine's general population, for example, the "percentage of black males in 1980 was 0.17, and the participation rate for black male faculty members was 0.3, resulting in a representation ratio of 1.77."

The authors describe their statistical evidence in great detail, and conclude that affirmative action has not resulted in reverse discrimination. But neither has it been very effective, for much of the change in the proportion of men, women, and minorities in different kinds of positions in higher education could be predicted by demographic changes alone. Contrary to the authors' expectations, some segments of private higher education have shown greater progress in becoming representative bureaucracies than have some segments of public higher education. They conclude that "these results suggest that government policies have not been as intrusive as critics charge, nor have they been as effective as advocates of affirmative action would like them to be. …

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