Affirmative Action, how you do it?

We all have heard about the concept of  affirmative action (an action or policy favoring those who tend to suffer from discrimination, especially in relation to employment or education; positive discrimination) or positive action in UK or the term I prefer which is used in Canada and South Africa employment equity. Consdering both pros and cons of such policies, in this blog I mainly focus on how affirmative action should take place in higher education:

Schools should educate and employ individuals while being just and democratic. What is meant by these normative statement, however, can be terribly unclear or vastly different from person to person (JZF, EPC, & JDN, 2013). The first ambiguity is the meaning of justice and democracy. How these terms are defined and from whose perspective, would be critical issues in defining affirmative action policies adopted by institutes of higher education. To Rawls, social justice is about assuring the protection of equal access to liberties, rights, and opportunities, as well as taking care of the least advantaged members of society (Rawls, 1958). Here, the problem is the challenge between providing equal opportunity for everyone and maintaining the quality of predicted performance. If one values both diversity and the performance outcomes, then a key question emerges: What are the prospects for achieving diversity without minority preference and without sacrificing the predictive accuracy and content relevancy present in knowledge, skill, ability, and achievement tests (Sackett, Schmitt, Ellingson, & Kabin, 2001)? It would be quite simple if a university wants to sacrifice quality of measurement and predictive accuracy, since there are many routes to achieving diversity including “random selection, setting a low cut score, or the use of a low-impact predictor” even though it may possess little to no predictive power (ibid).  Also it would not be a difficult task for universities to maximize their predictive accuracy of performance outcome by only focusing on test results without considering engagement in “efforts to improve opportunities for historically excluded groups in American society”(“Affirmative Action | Overview,” 2014). Clearly, the use of traditional tests without race-based score adjustment fails to achieve a balance between diversity concerns and performance outcomes.

Universities are responsible for creating a sufficient common basis for shared civic action instead of erasing differences. For reaching this goal, it is suggested that it would be wise for campus leaders to utilize a multidimensional approach to diversity and anticipate that the effects of diversity policies may differ. ALL students should be considered when developing a multidimensional approach, so that cultural “border crossing” is pursued by everyone (Williams, Berger, & McClendon, 2005) The question is HOW to involve all the students and how to cross the cultural border, in other words, what a “sufficient common basis” for shared civic action can be. In Ben-Porath’s opinion, a view of education for citizenship based on this idea of “citizenship as shared fate envisions schools that build on and develop a holistic notion of society” while maintaining a commitment to the well-being of individuals whose complex identities arise from their memberships in multiple groups, namely linguistic communities, cultural and religious groups, and social classes (Ben-Porath, 2013).

Another important issue regarding diversity in university and affirmative action in higher education, is about employment. Equal opportunity for employment of faculty members from different backgrounds (i.e. cultural, religious, political affiliation and etc.) is a part of affirmative action policies which must be adopted by universities. However, there are discussion regarding the existence of left universities. For example, in “The Ideological Profile of Professors” chapter of the book “The politically correct university” which gathers up numerous studies that reveal the political affiliations and ideologies of university faculty the author tries to link the higher number of liberal faculty members in universities (especially in humanities and liberal arts) to biased system of employment in the higher education institutes. However, one must pay close attention to details and reasons of this difference, while probing why there are so few conservative faculties on campus, for example, studies have shown that liberal students are more likely to find faculty mentors who guide them toward graduate study, and thus toward the possibility of becoming professors in the future. Therefore, the difference in employment rate of members of a certain group in comparison to its counterpart does not necessarily imply lack of affirmative action nor presence of prejudice towards certain set of beliefs, however the underneath reasons must be explored in order to address the roots of these imbalances (Maranto et al., 2009, pp. 15–32).

Cited Works:

  1. Affirmative Action | Overview. (2014). Retrieved December 8, 2016, from
  2. Ben-Porath, S. (2013). Education for Shared Fate Citizenship. Education, Justice, and Democracy, 80.
  3. JZF, EPC, & JDN. (2013). Education, Justice, & Democracy. Harvard Educational Review, 83(3), 529–539.
  4. Maranto, R., Redding, R. E., Hess, F. M., & American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (Eds.). (2009). The politically correct university: problems, scope, and reforms. Washington, D.C: AEI Press.
  5. Rawls, J. (1958). Justice as fairness. The Philosophical Review, 164–194.
  6. Sackett, P. R., Schmitt, N., Ellingson, J. E., & Kabin, M. B. (2001). High-stakes testing in employment, credentialing, and higher education. Prospects in a post-affirmative-action world. The American Psychologist, 56(4), 302–318.

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