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Affirmative Action, Diversity, and the Politics of Representation in Higher Education
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The Journal of Higher Education 74.1 (2003) 96-107



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Affirmative Action, Diversity, and the Politics of Representation in Higher Education

Benjamin Baez,
Georgia State University


Affirmative Action and the University: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Higher Education Employment, by Kul B. Rai and John W. Critzer. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2000. 250p. $45.00. ISBN 0-8032-3934-3.

Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success, by Caroline Sotello Viernes Turner and Samuel L. Myers, Jr. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2000. 257p. $35.50. ISBN 0-205-27849-3.

Colleges and universities appear to have become the primary sites for the struggle over affirmative action, as there are a number of recent decisions and pending lawsuits against some public universities, and politically conservative organizations which oppose affirmative action have focused their attention on these institutions (see Alger, 1999). As a result, there has been an increase in studies addressing its importance. Many scholars believe that providing empirical evidence of the compelling need for diversity is the only hope for saving affirmative action. As Alger explained, courts expect "articulated evidence of the educational benefits of diversity." The books reviewed in this essay are similarly concerned with providing empirical evidence of the [End Page 96] importance of diversity. Turner and Myers direct their attentions to retention practices in Faculty of Color in Academe: Bittersweet Success, while Rai and Critzer in Affirmative Action and the University: Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in Higher Education Employment focus more specifically on the impact of affirmative action on all higher education hiring practices.

These two books significantly contribute not only to the scholarship on diversity but also to political projects concerned with social justice. Like other recent studies providing empirical evidence of the successes of affirmative action (see, e.g., Bowen and Bok, 1998), these books illustrate convincingly that diversity is important to the academy and to society at large. Yet, like other works that fail to question the ideological and discursive practices that create diversity in the first place, these books also might contribute to political projects that, without critical self-reflection, are counterproductive to social justice. In this essay, I summarize each book and review its strengths and limitations. Then I provide a more general critique of the political projects on which both books are premised.

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

Drawing on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data, Rai and Critzer used statistical analysis in Affirmative Action and the University to evaluate changes from the 1970s through the mid-1990s in the ethnic/racial and gender make-up of professional and non-professional positions in private and public institutions. The purpose of this study was to analyze the successes of minorities and women in obtaining positions in higher education and to determine if these groups made gains in proportion to their share of the state's population. Relying on the notion of a "representative bureaucracy," Rai and Critzer argued that public higher education, as an arm of state government, is more likely than private higher education to provide employment opportunities for minorities and women. A representative bureaucracy presumes that public entities would be more reflective of the population in which they reside, and so minorities and women will fare better in states with larger populations of their groups.

The authors did well enough in highlighting the key arguments associated with affirmative action in their introduction, although other recent works provide more extensive discussions of these debates (see, e.g., Cahn, 1993; Crosby & VanDeVeer, 2000). In Chapter 1, Rai and Critzer [End Page 97] provided a brief history of affirmative action, highlighting its bases in federal antidiscrimination laws and key Supreme Court cases. This review, however, was not completely reliable, as they incorrectly cited a few cases and missed other key ones. This problem probably can be attributed to the fact that they relied only on secondary sources (and particularly newspaper articles). Although this was unfortunate, it did not detract tremendously from the...