Diversity and Affirmative Action in Public Service

By Walter D. Broadnax | Go to book overview

2
SOCIAL EQUITY AND THE PUBLIC SERVICE

Eugene B. McGregor Jr.

Social equity doctrines in public affairs are popularly regarded as the enemy of merit principles. The equity camp defends popular (i.e., reasonably equal) distribution of opportunity and reward, and the merit camp connotes elitism and competitive excellence. 1 Each side claims to be consistent with principles of justice and democracy, and criticizes the other for undermining the same principles. The debate is not new in politics and public administration, 2 and the schism between democratic "Jeffersonianism" and aristocratic "Hamiltonianism" is sometimes exploited to shore up respective arguments. 3 In this round of the struggle, however, it appears that proponents of social equity are the plaintiffs and may carry the day. And the sounds of battle have been getting louder. Schools, particularly, are being scrutinized in terms of the extent to which degrees and tests are used as sorting devices to provide equal opportunity for their students and graduates. 4 Government, particularly public administration which comprises so much of government, is now under close reexamination in terms of both structure and control 5 and the professional philosophy of its practitioners. 6 Predictably, the battle has arrived in the front yard of the public service, 7 and it is the purpose of this essay to explore the effects of the conflict and its possible resolution on public administration.

This essay is limited to a discussion of the implications of the clash between "social equity" and "merit" for civil service employment in the United States. Not given treatment in this analysis are the important and related questions of "citizen participation"--justifications and strategies for involving average citizens in policy making--and the "representative bureaucracy" arguments which find that

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Source: Public Administration Review 34 ( January/February 1974): 18-29.

-23-

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