Affirming DiversityChallenges to Affirmative Action Notwithstanding, Public Colleges and Universities Remain Staunchly Committed to Inclusion and Access
When voters in Michigan went to the polls last fall, they approved—by a margin of 16 percent—a measure banning affirmative action in state government. The Michigan vote echoed voter decisions in California in 1996 and, in 1998, in Oregon. Buoyed by the outcome in Michigan, opponents of affirmative action in other states are gearing up to add the question to the 2008 ballot.
Just as their colleagues in other states have done, university administrators in Michigan today are working to digest the meaning of the November election. In the short term, that translates into changes like amending the names of certain campus offices and scrutinizing policies excising references to race. What happens in the longer term is unclear. No one doubts the effects will be more significant than repainting the sign on an office door.
Interestingly, the challenges to affirmative action come at a time when a broader campus conversation about inclusion and access has gained traction. While campuses continue to discuss ways to ensure racial equality, the conversation now embraces a broader
set of issues—including, for example, the ways in which poverty and adversity are barriers to a pluralistic society.
That’s not to suggest a cause and effect. The conversation didn’t suddenly shift because affirmative action came under assault. But it does acknowledge that colleges and universities are exploring creative, thoughtful ways that advance a next generation of work in pursuit of a more inclusive society—work that in some respects builds on some of the lessons and gains of affirmative action. From new thinking about admissions to a renewed focus on outreach programs, from a more inclusive definition of diversity itself to broader thinking about the educational pipeline from pre-K through workforce development, a range of new ideas has infused all of academe.
Alternative Routes:Non-Tenure Track Faculty
According to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s 2005
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System survey, only 51.4 percent
of all faculty at public four-year institutions are tenured or on the
tenure track, leaving 48.6 percent in other ranks. Indeed, data from
several administrations of the National Center for Education Statistics’
“National Study of Postsecondary Faculty” show a steadily declining
percentage of tenured and tenure-track faculty on American campuses and
an upswing in full-time faculty not on the road to tenure.
going through another phase of the rebuilding of higher education,” says
Eugene Rice, a senior scholar at the American Association of Colleges
and Universities and a leader in scholarship looking at faculty roles
and rewards. “There is a generational change under way and now the
growing cohort is contingent, which is very different from the past.”
The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers, a
recently published, monumental compilation and analysis of decades of
data, Jack H. Shuster and Martin J. Finkelstein conclude that the
full-time, tenure-track position is no longer the “modal” academic
appointment. In fact, they write, the faculty ranks are “moving,
seemingly inexorably, toward becoming a contingent workforce. A majority
contingent workforce, no less.”