Women in Higher Education

By W. Todd Furniss; Patricia Albjerg Graham | Go to book overview

Robben W. Fleming


The Implementation of Affirmative Action Programs

The emphasis of the Council's 1972 meeting is on the role of women in academia, and I shall, therefore, discuss affirmative action programs only as they relate to women, though there are equally important programs for minority groups. Since it is unlikely that everyone agrees on all dimensions of the topic, I shall state the point from which I start my analysis.

There has been discrimination against women in academic institutions. One need not concede the discrimination as deliberate to recognize that it has existed. Indeed, from my point of view, most of it has not been deliberate unless that term is defined as the product of long-held societal perceptions of the "proper" roles of men and women. Those perceptions are now changing, as is the law. Our task in higher education is to work together in eradicating the discrimination that exists. The cause is little helped by male prophets of doom who want no change in the status quo or by female activists who adopt the simplistic view that the only problem is male chauvinism.

The basic elements in an affirmative action program are well known and need not be repeated here. At the University of Michigan we know that discrimination has existed, and we are spending substantial amounts of time and money in trying to end it. But I cannot pretend that there are no problems. Some of them are practical; others have a philosophical overtone.

On the practical side, counterpressures are at work to make implementation of affirmative action programs difficult. Practically all colleges and universities are in financial trouble: inflationary pressures, slackening enrollments, public disenchantment with higher education, and demands for greater "productivity" from academic personnel combine to tighten the academic personnel market. Students of productivity know that in industrial terms a

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