Affirmative Action

Its overturning in university admissions marks a new stage in a long debate over affirmative action.

A Dubious Expediency book cover.

A Dubious expediency: how race preferences damage higher education, ed. by Gail Heriot and Maimon Schwarzschild. Encounter Books, 2021. 248p bibl index ISBN 9781641771320, $28.99; ISBN 9781641771337 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE October 2022

This timely collection gathers essays from academics, lawyers, and policy wonks from educational think tanks addressing what they contend are the detrimental outcomes of 50 years of affirmative action policies in higher education. Though preferential policies in college admissions, academic hiring, and promotion have been advanced for increasing racial diversity, the authors argue that they have not yielded the intended effects of academically and vocationally benefiting minorities and creating harmony on campus. Instead, they claim, such policies have had the unintended consequence of fostering division and denying opportunities to particular people of color, most notably Asian Americans, whose legal challenges to affirmative action policies are making their way through the American judicial system at the time of this review. The contributors further challenge the purported “educational benefits of diversity” in higher education beyond race and ethnicity to include social class, gender, sexual orientation, and immigration status. The result of even daring to question the orthodoxy found in higher education practices today will, no doubt, elicit strong reactions in readers from both ends of the affirmative action continuum—precisely the type of scholarship and subsequent debate that appears to be missing at far too many colleges and universities. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, advanced undergraduates through faculty, and professionals. —J. R. Mitrano, Central Connecticut State University

Misconceiving Merit book cover.

Blair-Loy, Mary. Misconceiving merit: paradoxes of excellence and devotion in academic science and engineering, by Mary Blair-Loy and Erin A. Cech. Chicago, 2022. 232p bibl index ISBN 9780226820118, $95.00; ISBN 9780226820156 pbk, $27.50; ISBN 9780226820149 ebook, $26.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE January 2023

Blair-Loy (Univ. of California, San Diego) and Cech (Univ. of Michigan) survey, interview, and examine scholars and their outputs to produce an institutional case study describing two conflicting sets of cultural schemas that, despite commitments to objectivity and excellence, reproduce inequalities in STEM. These schemas tightly align to a “work devotion” theme that presupposes “the best” scholars are totally committed. However, findings show that scholars reporting time spent on their families are no less productive than colleagues without such obligations. Similarly, they investigate “scientific excellence,” an assumed ideal of aggressive individualism and risk-taking associated with a self-presentation convergent with stereotypical white male behaviors. However, though self-promotion may produce salary differentials, it may not correlate with measurable productivity. Meanwhile, minority STEM faculty (Black, Latinx, Native, LGBTQ, female) do not receive credit for their achievements and are dismissed through attribution of false identarian advantages—e.g., accusations of affirmative action. These schemata shape experiences, networking opportunities, assessments, and promotions, ultimately discouraging vulnerable faculty from continuing in academe. The meticulous attention to detail and argument these authors show is essential for potentially disrupting the habitual deflections about the objectivity of scientific merit. This book is required reading for academic administrators, leaders of STEM equity programs, and STEM department chairs. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates. Graduate students, faculty, and professionals. —J. L. Croissant, University of Arizona

For Discrimination book cover.

Kennedy, Randall. For discrimination: race, affirmative action, and the law. Pantheon Books, 2013. 293p ISBN 0307907376, $25.95; ISBN 9780307907370, $25.95.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2014

Kennedy (Harvard Law School) defines “affirmative action” as “policies that offer individuals deemed to be affiliated with a beneficiary group a preference over others in competitions for employment, education, or other valued resources.” As the clever title indicates, Kennedy wholeheartedly embraces this controversial practice while readily acknowledging its discriminatory nature. This is a defining characteristic of this latest book from the author of numerous other works about race relations in the US. Kennedy has written a passionate and oftentimes very personal treatment of the subject, but at every turn he recognizes the importance of providing an evenhanded representation of the multitudinous views of the foes of “affirmative action.” These attributes will make For Discrimination a very useful book for undergraduates, because it contains chapters that present a comprehensive yet detailed overview of the complicated political, legal, and social history of “affirmative action.” Summing Up: Recommended. Undergraduate collections all levels. H. J. Knowles, Skidmore College

Surrendered book cover.

Kumashiro, Kevin K. Surrendered: why progressives are losing the biggest battles in education. Teachers College Press, 2020. 112p ISBN 9780807764619, $75.00; ISBN 9780807764602 pbk, $24.95; ISBN 9780807779200 ebook, $19.96.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2021

The range of problems significantly impacting US education is broad, particularly as health concerns challenge traditional pedagogies and threaten student development. Noted education scholar Kumashiro addresses these and other pressing issues through the lens of American political and economic history, insisting that only by understanding their origins will progressives be able to effectively address current crises. A critical analysis of neoliberal social policy and the related commercialization of educational institutions animates the discussion. Kumashiro argues further that racialized ideologies and superficial but widely accepted notions of common sense have deepened the inequalities that manifest in educational settings. The author explores five specific and especially fraught issues—affirmative action, bullying and violence, student debt, teacher shortages, and hate speech—revealing common, shallow understandings of these matters and the templates for action implicit in more complex interpretations. This slim volume is an overview of current critical thinking about how progressive communities can reclaim lost ground in educational and other struggles. It also presents interested students with a host of broad economic and social relationships ripe for further, in-depth investigation. Significant points of analysis are usefully summarized in italics. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers through graduate students; professionals. M. Morrissey, emerita, University of Toledo

To Fulfill These Rights book cover.

Okechukwu, Amaka. To fulfill these rights: political struggle over affirmative action and open admissions. Columbia, 2019. 328p bibl index ISBN 9780231183093, $90.00; ISBN 9780231183093 pbk, $30.00; ISBN 9780231544740 ebook, $29.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2021

In this extremely well-prepared text, sociologist Okechukwu (George Mason Univ.) analyzes the ongoing political struggles over affirmative action and open admissions over the past 50 years, which she refers to as the “post-civil rights period.” In a brief but informative review of relevant literature, Okechukwu points out that although much has been written about affirmative action by scholars, policy makers, judges, and the Supreme Court, “there is an absence of academic literature on political contention over open admissions.” Her research on the rise and fall of open admissions at the first-tier senior colleges of the City University of New York (CUNY) fills this gap, making this essential reading for anyone interested in open admissions at CUNY and elsewhere. To explore programs aimed at fulfilling the rights of minority students, especially Black and Latinx students, in all four corners of the country, she provides equally in-depth analyses of affirmative action programs at three highly selective universities—the University of Texas, the University of Michigan, and the University of California (Berkeley and UCLA). In her concluding chapter, Okechukwu speculates about the future of affirmative action programs, noting that the struggle to fulfill minority students’ rights will continue. Summing Up: Essential. All levels. —M. Oromaner, formerly, Hudson County Community College

Blackballed book cover.

Ross, Lawrence. Blackballed: the black and white politics of race on America’s campuses. St. Martin’s, 2016. 266p index afp ISBN 9781250079114, $25.99; ISBN 9781466891746 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE September 2016

Ross delivers a very timely and important book that documents both the historical and current racial climates on college campuses in the US. Each chapter provides a multitude of examples of how racism permeates colleges and universities, resulting in hostile campus climates. The examples Ross uses to illustrate the insidious and pervasive nature of racism in higher education are compelling and taken from very recent history, pulled from current headlines as recently as the SAE incident at the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Ross reveals the racism that exists in both the curricular and co-curricular venues on college campuses, resulting in a lack of safety for African American students enrolled in predominantly white institutions. He expertly shows the many ways that racism is infused into the structure of higher education institutions, including the naming of buildings, anti-affirmative action policies, and long-held campus traditions. Ross leaves readers with an appeal for proactive versus reactive measures—mandates that all institutions should employ immediately. Required reading for anyone involved, interested, and invested in the education of all students. Summing Up: Essential. All public and academic levels/libraries. J. S. Hodes, West Chester University

Mismatch book cover.

Sander, Richard. Mismatch: how affirmative action hurts students it’s intended to help, and why universities won’t admit it, by Richard Sander and Stuart Taylor Jr. Basic Books, 2012. 348p ISBN 9780465029969, $28.99.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2013

Sander and Taylor attack affirmative action programs in a bold and comprehensive way. Studying the programs almost exclusively in the context of higher education, they find them utterly lacking in logical consistency and evidentiary support. Indeed, they treat most defenses of racial preferences as nonsensensical; Sander and Taylor painstakingly lay out the “cascade effect,” in which college diversity goals create large gaps in academic preparation between students who receive racial preferences and those who do not (thus the “mismatch”). Unlike most other treatments of the subject, this work also assesses the disadvantageous position of less selective schools as they seek to apply racial preferences of their own. Supporters of affirmative action will no doubt be frustrated by the authors’ dismissive tone, especially as they depict the motives of admissions officers who must apply a “holistic” system when reviewing applications. General readers will learn much from this work, though it is recommended more for graduate students in public policy as well as students and faculty at law schools. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, graduate students, and research faculty. D. Yalof, University of Connecticut

Rethinking Racial Justice book cover.

Valls, Andrew. Rethinking racial justice. Oxford, 2018. 244p bibl index ISBN 9780190860554, $99.00; ISBN 9780190860561 pbk, $29.95; ISBN 9780190860578 ebook, contact publisher for price.
Reviewed in CHOICE February 2019

The focus here is on American racial inequality. Valls (Oregon State) focuses on the perpetual plight of African Americans regarding liberty, equality, and justice, all of which ought to be granted to citizens of the US. This is a long-standing problem. It is argued that neither the racial injustices of the past nor present racial injustices have been addressed in any concrete way and that unless a massive shift occurs in American culture, the immediate future does not project to be any different. Affirmative action, (de)segregation, civil rights, criminal justice, the Movement for Black Lives, and multiculturalism are but a few of the many topics and angles analyzed in this text. The author uses the metaphor of plague to illustrate the severity and pervasiveness of racial inequality. This is by no means farfetched, as racism so clearly persists. Though relying on various academic texts to support his arguments, the author has written a clear, accessible text. This is an important, unflinching look at a shameful part of American life, and its pages ought to have a wide audience. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.P. Gamsby, Memorial University of Newfoundland

The Diversity Bargain book cover.

Warikoo, Natasha K. The diversity bargain: and other dilemmas of race, admissions, and meritocracy at elite universities. Chicago, 2016. 293p bibl index ISBN 9780226400143, $26.00; ISBN 9780226400280 ebook, $18.00.
Reviewed in CHOICE June 2017

Warikoo (Harvard Graduate School of Education) acknowledges that elite institutions of higher education commit resources to diversifying their student bodies, yet fall short of their goals with respect to race and class. While admissions offices and enrolled white students value affirmative action and diversity, they do so because they feel much is to be gained and learned by diversifying the collegiate way of life. That the numbers of underrepresented minorities in the student body fall short of their relative percentages of the population does not occur to them as a problem, for two reasons. First is faith in the concept of merit. Second is the conviction that the admission process is fair. Thus, admitted students ascribe this distinction to individual merit and are thereby willing to accept some affirmative action so long as it personally benefits their own college experience. This is the diversity bargain. But demographic realities raise the question as to what merit is and how it can be redefined to ensure that all sectors of the population can access the opportunities that society offers. The author distinguishes between symbolic and real solutions and has several suggestions for next steps. A sophisticated contribution unobtrusively informed by current theory and distinguished by substantial field research at Brown, Harvard, and Oxford. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above. W. S. Simmons, Brown University