August 7, 2000
New book seeks to set the record straight on affirmative action debate
* Faye Crosby is available for interviews. See contact information below. *
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SANTA CRUZ, CA--The most gratifying feedback Faye Crosby has received on her new book, Sex, Race, & Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment, came from a student who was a strong advocate of affirmative action--until she read the section of Crosby's book that presents arguments against such policies.
"What she read made her think more deeply about the issue, and at first she was disturbed to find herself questioning her own beliefs," said Crosby, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who coedited the book with Cheryl VanDeVeer, director of the Document Publishing and Editing Center at UCSC. "But if the book educates people and makes them reflect on the merits of both sides of the issue, we have accomplished our goal."
Sex, Race, & Merit: Debating Affirmative Action in Education and Employment (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000) brings together a rich array of material, including newspaper articles and essays by leading scholars on both sides of this divisive national issue, to trace the history of affirmative action. The book also features excerpts from primary sources, including key legal cases, California's Proposition 209, and legislative documents that established affirmative action policy in 1965.
Since its inception, affirmative action has been a controversial policy, and passions run high on all sides. Sex, Race, & Merit is designed to enhance intelligent discussion of the issues, presenting all sides of the controversy and working to separate fact from fiction. For starters, the editors present this definition of affirmative action:
Affirmative action occurs whenever an organization goes out of its way to make sure that there is no discrimination against people of color, against white women, against people with disabilities, or against veterans.
Part of the passion that has engulfed affirmative action stems from the proactive component of the definition, said Crosby. "It's the notion that you need to go out of your way to create justice that makes people nervous," she said. "Affirmative action is an acknowledgment that the world is less fair than we think and hope in our hearts and minds."
That's why business has been less resistant to affirmative action than academia, asserted Crosby. "People in business know things can go wrong and that you have to be very practical to reach your goals," she said.
"They're more aware of that gap between reality and goals. Academics deal so much in the realm of ideas that we sometimes lose sight of the mismatch between ideas and reality."
The most powerful arguments against affirmative action, in Crosby's view, are that it contributes to "race politics" and that it is too easy to corrupt the implementation of affirmative action policies. "Affirmative action makes race so salient that it becomes hard for individuals to get beyond their awareness of each other's race," she said. "It also sounds good in theory, but without proper implementation, it can result in a diluted workforce or student body. When misused, you don't get the best person for the job, or the best student for your college."
Compelling arguments in favor of affirmative action are that it enhances the merits of any group by producing a broader pool of talented applicants. "When Yale University decided to admit women, the president said, 'Look, the test scores of our male applicants are dropping. We can either continue to accept lower-quality male students, or we can expand the pool to include women,'" described Crosby. "When you expand the pool, you get a better quality of applicants."
Affirmative action also shifts the focus from individuals to teams, and when the goals of an organization are clear, diverse teams are always better, said Crosby. "Affirmative action is a shortcut to diversity, and we know from research that diversified teams can outperform others," she said. "Imagine two baseball teams that share the same goal of winning. If one team has only good pitchers, they may share the same goal, but they'll never get there."
Successful affirmative action programs require institutional commitment and resources, noted Crosby, who has concluded that part of the controversy surrounding affirmative action is rooted in our country's democratic values. "At the core of every democracy is tension between the rights of the individual and the rights of the collective. When do we say the collective good outweighs individual rights?" said Crosby. "In some ways, affirmative action is geared toward ensuring the minimum collective good, and it requires us to regulate our society to achieve that goal. Affirmative action challenges unbridled individualism, and that strikes at bedrock issues of how we structure our society."
Sex, Race, & Merit represents a dispassionate presentation of the complexities that surround affirmative action, accomplished despite the editors' up-front support of affirmative action. "If people are going to argue about this, let's argue on the basis of information rather than misinformation," said Crosby, who has debated affirmative action foe Ward Connerly.
Faye J. Crosby is a leading authority on affirmative action in education and business. She is coeditor of Mentoring Dilemmas: Developmental Relationships within the Multicultural Organization. She was on the faculty of Smith College and Yale University before coming to UCSC in 1998.
To reach Faye Crosby: (831) 459-3568 or (831) 459-2058; email@example.com