Most students reject campus preferences

By DAR HADDIX  |  April 14, 2003 at 11:01 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 14 (UPI) -- A survey of 140 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada shows that of those surveyed, most students and about half of teachers and administrators do not support preferential treatment based on race or sex.

The article, "Diversity and Affirmative Action: The State of Campus Opinion," shows that about 85 percent of students do not support preferences in hiring and school admissions, while roughly 55 percent of teachers and 48 percent of administrators do not.

Authors and professors Stanley Rothman, Seymour Martin Lipset and Neil Nevitte say these and other findings challenge social science claims that affirmative action and diversity policies are beneficial to students simply because they increase diversity.

That a majority of students, faculty and administrators do not support these policies is significant, say the authors, because schools have relied on the "attitudes, perceptions, and memories" of these groups to justify such policies.

However, those surveyed did say they welcome "discussion and learning opportunities" regarding diversity. About 45 percent of students said they wanted such courses made available, as did roughly 37 percent of faculty and administrators. But only about 16 percent of students and around 17 percent of faculty and administrators said they thought school should require such courses.

A majority of those polled said they did not feel academic standards should be lowered to admit more minority students. Many felt that special admissions policies have lowered academic standards, and few felt that they have raised standards. Seventy-five percent of students and almost 60 percent of faculty and administrators did not want standards lowered to admit more minorities, while about 35 percent of everyone surveyed said the policies have lowered standards. Only 10 percent of students, about 3 percent of faculty and 2 percent of administrators felt the policies had raised standards.

The survey found that about two-thirds of everyone surveyed did not see merit-based standards for admissions and hiring as favoring white males. Many also feel that white males have the hardest time getting hired to faculty positions. Fifty-three percent of teachers and 49 percent of administrators feel that white males face the toughest odds against being hired. This, the authors say, shows that contrary to the assumption on most campuses, faculties are not "sanctuaries of white male privilege."

The authors also describe the evolution of affirmative action and diversity policies.

Affirmative action, they say, was originally created to prevent discrimination against African-Americans in hiring and higher education. "Reaching out and ending discrimination" were initially emphasized, but soon, people argued that the "only way to ensure fairness for blacks" was to establish quotas and preferences. Preferences allowed African-Americans to meet lower standards than whites when applying to jobs and schools.

After the 1978 Supreme Court decision Regents of California v. Bakke, schools began to emphasize diversity instead of affirmative action, based on social science research that indicated the "mere presence of racial and ethnic diversity" benefited students. This new emphasis opened the benefits of affirmative action to other minority groups such as Latinos. But the courts started to "reject both affirmative action and diversity as grounds for special treatment." Now schools have admissions policies that guarantee significant enrollment of African-Americans and Latino students without relying solely on the criterion of race.

The article was published in the Fall 2002 edition of Academic Questions, a publication of the National Association of Scholars. The survey, the 1999 North American Academic Study, was conducted for the authors by the survey research firm Angus Reid.

Rothman is emeritus professor of Government at Smith College and director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change. Lipset is a professor at the Institute of Public Policy, George Mason University, and senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Nevitte is a Political Science professor at the University of Toronto.

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