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The Journal of Higher Education 73.2 (2002) 309-311

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Book Review

Sex, Race, and Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment

Sex, Race, and Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment, edited by Faye J. Crosby and Cheryl VanDeVeer. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2000. 352 pp. $22.95 (paper)

The year 1998 marked the twentieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case of the Regents of the University of California, Davis v. Bakke (1978). In the Bakke case, the Supreme Court declared that race could be utilized as one of many collegiate admissions factors in order to promote diversity in higher education. The Bakke case therefore sanctioned the use of affirmative [End Page 309] action to promote equity through diversifying student admissions. The national focus on institutional diversity originally began with Brown v. Board of Education, Topeka (1954). The Brown case posited that the integration of various races and ethnic groups in the educational environment led to increased student outcomes. The Bakke case merely affirmed the contentions of Brown.

Interestingly enough, the twenty-year anniversary of the Bakke ruling was not a year of celebration. In fact, it was a year of serious legal and academic ambivalence regarding the benefits and appropriateness of affirmative action-based diversity initiatives. From the pro-affirmative action community, the year yielded the publication of Bowen and Bok's (1998) study of accrued lifelong gains to students who attended campuses with strong affirmative action programs and admissions. From the anti-affirmative action community, the year heralded the implementation of California's Proposition 209, which delimits the use of affirmative action in public colleges and universities. To date sixteen states are considering initiatives like California's Proposition 209 and/or face legal action against a state institution engaged in affirmative action activities (Center for Individual Rights, 1998).

In an effort to document the reason and rhetoric of the affirmative action battle over the last several years, Crosby and VanDeVeer (2000) have compiled a collection of previously published articles, book chapters, newspaper articles, public commentary, and legal cases. Sex, Race, and Merit places the key documents in the battle over affirmative action between its bonded cover. The book homogenizes the high-pitched oratory of the voices both pro and con into one harmonious soliloquy.

Sex, Race, and Merit seeks a place at the table of scholarly discourse on equity and access in postsecondary education. However, the book falls short. The literature on affirmative action in higher education has exploded over the last three years. Scholars like Feinberg (1997) and Lawrence and Matsuda (1997) have attempted to make the case for affirmative action. As aforementioned, Bowen and Bok (1998) similarly offered the field a detailed treatment of the positive experiences and outcomes of beneficiaries of affirmative action. There is also a growing body of literature on the need for equality of educational opportunity and outcomes in higher education (Brown, 1999; Delgado, 1999; Lowe, 1999; Reed, 1999). The difference between these books and Sex, Race, and Merit is scholarship. Each of the other volumes are research-based monographs. Crosby and VanDeVeer offer no original research of their own. They offer clips and snippets of polemic arguments on affirmative actions interspersed with miscellaneous documents. Conversely, the edited volume by Post and Rogin (1998) does proffer an edited collective of scholarly voices on affirmative action. Post and Rogin's volume may have been Crosby and VanDeVeer's aim.

The missing scholarship makes it difficult to position this book within the larger affirmative action conversation. Notwithstanding, the selected writings can aid a novitiate reader gain a firm grasp of the stances and arguments within the debate. Additionally, the inclusion of key legal resources will also be useful for beginning readers. Hence, Sex, Race, and Merit is a crash course on the key issues in the dispute over affirmative action policy. However, for the informed reader the book will prove redundant and disappointing.

Notwithstanding, a larger conundrum exists as it relates to this book and the [End...


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