Beyond Affirmative Action
Reframing the Context of Higher Education
Publication Year: 2001
A century ago, universities were primarily in the business of molding upper-class young men for the professions. The world has changed, and universities have been forced to keep pace by experimenting with affirmative action, curriculum overhauls, part-time degree programs, and the like. But at the core of the modern university establishment is an ingrained academic culture that has operated in the same ways for centuries, contends Robert Ibarra, and in Beyond Affirmative Action, he calls for a complete paradigm shift.
Why does academic culture, he asks, emphasize individual achievement over teamwork? Why do so many exams test discrete bits of knowledge rather than understanding of the big picture? Why is tenure awarded for scholarly publications rather than for sharing knowledge in diverse ways with students and a wider community? Why do undergraduates drop out? And why do so many bright graduate students and junior faculty—including many minorities, women, and some majority males—become disenchanted with academia or fail to be accepted and rewarded by the tenured faculty?
Ibarra introduces a theory of "multicontextuality," which proposes that many people learn better when teachers emphasize whole systems of knowledge and that education can create its greatest successes by offering and accepting many approaches to teaching and learning. This revolutionary paradigm also addresses why current thinking about academic systems and organizational culture, affirmative action, and diversity must be revised. Ibarra bases his groundbreaking proposals upon his own synthesis of findings from anthropological, educational, and psychological studies of how people from various cultures learn, as well as findings from extended interviews he conducted with Latinos and Latinas who pursued graduate degrees and then either became university faculty or chose other careers. From his perspectives as a practicing anthropologist, teacher, researcher, and administrator, Ibarra provides a blueprint for change that will interest:
o Administrators developing campus strategic plans
o Boards, commissions, and agencies making policy for educational institutions
o Students and faculty struggling to find ways that academia can serve multiple constituencies
o Academic and career advisors to students
o Researchers in cognitive psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, and ethnic studies
o Businesses rethinking their organizational cultures and strategies
Published by: University of Wisconsin Press
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The movement to rescind affirmative action by court decisions or state mandates is forcing leaders in higher education to rethink their strategies and to explore new ways to achieve diversity. Public institutions in California, Florida, and Texas are experimenting with undergraduate...
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Gathering the data and completing this book would not have been possible without the cooperation of an informal network of people at many institutions around the country. I especially wish to extend my appreciation to all the deans and staff members at graduate...
Part I: Reframing the Context of Higher Education
1. Critical Junctures for Change
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Proponents view it as leveling the playing field. Opponents see it as bureaucratized inequality. Whatever they call it, most people think affirmative action in higher education will disappear. Some hope to abolish it; others believe it is evolving. The latest transformation...
2. The Latino Study: Reconceptualizing Culture and Changing the Dynamics of Ethnicity
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Very little is known about Latinos and Latinas in graduate education.We know the total Latino population in the country is growing rapidly, and we have some quantitative data about Latinos in higher education, but are we making the correct assumptions about their...
3. Multicontextuality: A Hidden Dimension in Higher Education
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Something is unique about the difficulties experienced by some Latinos in graduate education. In a preliminary report of my findings for the Council of Graduate Schools, I noted that more than half the Latino participants, both students and faculty, completed their degree with relatively few educational setbacks (Ibarra 1996). Yet a little...
Part II: Latinas and Latinos in Graduate Education and Beyond
4. The Graduate School Experience: Ethnicity in Transformation
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My interviews usually started with a nostalgic tour of the subjects’ past. Where did their families come from? What were their early educational experiences? I continually searched for clues to what may have sparked their interest in pursuing graduate work and, when...
5. “They Really Forget Who They Are”: Latinos and Academic Organizational Culture
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Graduate education is a formidable process of professional socialization. This point was reinforced at an annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in 1994, when Claudia Mitchell- Kernan, an anthropologist, described a number of these formative social/ cultural processes. Drawing from a variety of academic studies (see Becker...
6. Latinos and Latinas Encountering the Professoriate
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Many Latino and Latina faculty told me they feel like second-class citizens in academia. Though not regarded as a “race” by the U.S. Census Bureau, Chicanas/os, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, and other Latino ethnic groups have been amassed and counted so...
Part III: The Engagement of Cultural Context in Academia
7. Teaching, Testing, and Measuring Intelligence: Uncovering the Evidence That Cultural Context Is Important
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Since the mid-1990s colleagues have increasingly been sharing with me their sense that something is missing from higher education, but they can’t quite figure out what it is. The system has served us well, and we have produced a world-class educational model for research and scholarship. Graduate education, for instance, contributed directly...
8. Reframing the Cultural Context of the Academy: A New Infrastructure for Teaching, Learning, and Institutional Change
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A deep interest in reforming higher education simply has not caught fire with most faculty and administrators. Despite the efforts of some of the best educators in the country, supported by the best-led organizations at the National Center for Higher Education in Washington, D.C., reform has yet to begin. To be sure, numerous educational...
Appendix 1: Institutions Attended by Interviewees
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Appendix 2: Graduate Enrollment, 1986–1996
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Appendix 3: Latino Faculty Issues
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Publication Year: 2001