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Affirmative Action and Higher Education

Harvard Conducts Affirmative Action & Higher Education Study


Affirmative Action and Higher Education

Academic research on diversity needs to be re-directed, as it has become isolated from practical uses. It is clear that we need to answer the question research for whom? In order to adequately bridge the gap between research, public policy, and practice. Academics noted that research on diversity also needs to target questions that help explain why, and how or if, affirmative action addresses diverse communities in our institutions. Specifically, participants suggested it is important to know how diversity affects the classroom, the extra-curricular programs and relationships on campus.

In order for research on diversity and affirmative action to be effective, it was noted that it should emphasize a more empirical, both quantitative and qualitative, line of inquiry rather than focusing on the moral rationale. In order to better inform communities that deal with, administer or aspire to diverse communities, important research questions should be agreed upon by a larger consortium of groups and individuals. If such a consensus agenda were developed, funding organizations could be more confident that the research community had identified critical subjects for funding, and new scholars could be more confident of selecting meaningful and critical topics for research in this area.

Study Proceedings

In order to coordinate the substance of national meetings held on affirmative action and diversity, all Study proceedings should be made available to interested parties. The members of the group noted that abstracting these proceedings in the ERIC database would be particularly helpful.

Corporate - Higher Education Cooperation

Those in in the study thought it would be profitable to create links to the corporate community in order to jointly forge answers to pressing questions. For example, research is needed to demonstrate how/why the business sector uses diversity and how higher education's inability to use affirmative action would negatively effect the hiring pool.

More User-friendly Documents

Much of the research and legal briefs on pertinent issues often are of little use to people outside the field. One-page summaries of all findings in these areas would be helpful for quick reference by anyone interested.

Better Definition of Research Areas

Easily identifiable categories for research findings need to be established in the areas of diversity and affirmative action. This could help consumers of research find information that is clearly relevant to particular constituencies, e.g., effective institutional practices and practices sanctioned by the courts. By establishing research categories, quicker searches of existing materials can be completed.

Diversity in All Areas

It is clear that the focus on diversity and affirmative action has revolved around access to higher education. While this is important, it is imperative that we not limit the discussion to only access. Instead, we have to broaden our scope of research on diversity to include interactions of students and faculty, the development of curricula, and degree completion. We must move our understanding of diversity and affirmative action beyond access. Once diversity is present we need to implement programs and policies that maximize the benefits inherent in cross-racial interaction both within and outside the classroom.

Better Use of Existing Information

Researchers should make better use of the existing surveys and datasets. The National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) databases should be used as a backbone for information. This should be done in conjunction with institutional research offices at individual campuses. By comparing the aggregated data of the NCESs national datasets with the disaggregated datasets compiled by local institutions, many research questions can be answered fully and usefully. In addition to NCES, each year The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) in conjunction with ACE does a census survey of students attending institutions of higher learning. By adding some focused questions to this existing survey, answers about diversity that have eluded researchers could be found.

A Better Understanding of Discrimination, Past and Present

Two topics -- the problems of past and current discrimination have been neglected in recent research agendas. These lines of thinking should be resurrected and incorporated into research agendas across the country. In addition, research on resegregation could prove very helpful.

Specific Recommendations

Small breakout groups were assembled to discuss the methods for disseminating information to the various people working with diversity and affirmative action issues. Each of the breakout sessions was led by a moderator who used a questionnaire protocol to guide the discussion. In general, the groups were assigned the task of answering the following questions:

How do you obtain information about the work of other people in your field?

How much do you depend on informal groups of associates for vital specific information needs?

What changes could be made to existing information sources to make them more useful?

What is missing from the current information sources?

The aggregated calls for actions, which were generated by the group discussions, are listed below.

Mass Media

Each discussion group noted that mass media needs to be better informed if the public is to better understand the need for affirmative action. For example, there does not appear to be coordination of any of the university press representatives to establish a common call for support of diversity or affirmative action programs. In addition, it seems that the media best can be utilized if the messages they receive are accurate, and specific to each part of the country. Also, education reporters from the major newspapers are under-utilized as messengers of the positive impact of diversity/affirmative action programs on students and higher education.

The New Technologies

Many people noted that the advent of the World Wide Web and e-mail has increased the possibilities for broader dissemination of materials. Most of the participants believed that one central WWW site that held all of the information on diversity and affirmative action was not necessary as long as useful sites were linked. Using this rationale, information can be easily and quickly shared by interested parties.

Inter-Association Group in Diversity-Related Items

It was suggested that the higher education professional associations (ACE, the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges -- NASULGC, The American Association of University Professors -- AAUP, the American Association of Community Colleges -- AACC, AAC&U, etc.) re-convene their group on diversity-related items. This group could serve as a guiding force in generating positive public opinions on the impacts that affirmative action and diversity have on students. Those organizations involved could share information with each other and disseminate current information related to diversity and affirmative action to their constituencies in a timely manner.

Clearinghouses

ERIC was identified as the most useful source for published and unpublished information on diversity and affirmative action. Many participants thought that a system like dissertation abstracts would be helpful to catalogue the great numbers of papers created on this subject. This system of cataloging information also would help categorize existing and future research for easier access. Legal briefs, legislative acts, research findings and practitioner's programs should be included in the database to ensure speedy and knowledgeable transformation of information across the disciplines.

Institutional Information

It became clear through the group discussions that data on individual institutions need to be better documented and utilized. In fact, it appears that these data are most important in supporting institutional legal arguments in favor of diversity and affirmative action. Some of the information that individual institutional research offices collect could be aggregated to help answer some of the most pressing problems related to diversity and affirmative action in higher education as well as supplementing data from NCES.

Cross-Institution Sharing

It seems clear that most of the research in this field is on elite or highly selective institutions. It was the sentiment of many in the study that all institutions, including community colleges and comprehensive schools, should be studied. This will help unify the message of support for diversity and encourage the collection of additional data that delineates the effects of diversity on various student populations.

Conversation with the Opposition

There is a great need to talk with people who represent opposing views on diversity and affirmative action in order to better understand their arguments, better craft responses to issues, and ultimately better shape the focus of debate.

Network of Professionals

It was clear that within different informal networks, communication about new ideas and research was strong. It was also clear that very little exchange of information occurs between the groups involved. Attendees at the meeting agreed there was a need for the most recent information from the various groups (legislative, legal, research and practitioner) to be made readily available to all groups. A process or group that could encourage connections and exchanges of information had strong support from all in attendance.

Bridge to the New Professionals

There is a great need to include the junior professors and promising graduate students in the discussions that are occurring now. By assuring that a younger generation learns the information being accumulated now, we can assure the continuity of the message and research for the future.

Re-Structure Incentive Programs

There is a pressing need to re-examine the rewards and recognition of new professors who want to work in this field. It was suggested that clearer avenues to scholarly journals be established to allow more publication options in this area. It was also noted that institutional recognition for work on these topics might be more forthcoming if there was a greater national awareness of its importance to society.

Next Steps

Aside from the suggestions made during the lunch session, there were four concrete outcomes of this meeting. First, was a call for a public information campaign. Second, was a call for campus involvement and awareness. Third, was a request for increased communication across the elementary, secondary, and postsecondary educational segments. The last recommendation was to establish a means of continuing the dialogue begun in the meeting and to immediately identify a national diversity/affirmative action research agenda.

Public Information Campaign

In order to combat the negative moral campaigns against diversity and affirmative action, research addressing these issues must be packaged for public consumption. It was suggested that opinion polls be conducted to determine the public sentiment on these topics, and that local focus groups be established to communicate with interested parties. In addition, it was suggested that a massive public information campaign be waged to ensure that equal time is spent understanding the benefits of diverse environments, as is currently spent to claim that these programs are antiquated.

Campus Involvement and Awareness

This is a call for institutions of higher education to become more active in the survival of affirmative action and diversity on their campuses. It is a call for individual institutions to perform their own studies on their own students. Because of mis-interpretations of the Hopwood decision by local institutions, there are many ill-conceived responses being adopted across the country. To avoid this, centralized and current information is needed at the local level. Broader circulation of diversity information like the newsletter published by the Association of American Colleges and Universities is needed to inform, and impact policies at the local levels.

K-16 Communication

Currently, there is little conversation between groups studying diversity from the elementary, secondary and post-secondary communities. In order to understand the impacts of diversity on students at the various educational levels, and in order to chart those impacts over time, a coordinated effort is needed across these areas.

Possible Ongoing Consortium

Lastly, the participants proposed the creation of a working group as a first step towards an ongoing consortium -- to organize a national research agenda, and plan strategies for dissemination of information to everyone concerned.

The proposed working group would coordinate research efforts and dissemination of materials related to affirmative action and diversity. Specifically, the group would support the national efforts to fulfill the following short and long-term goals:

Identify items for a national research agenda on affirmative action and diversity;

Develop a list of priorities of areas to be studied;

Identify people who are currently conducting research in these areas;

Develop and disseminate a list of hot research topics for the field;

Coordinate efforts of the legal, legislative, research and practitioner communities conducting research in these areas;

Develop a list of advisors for the research agenda to advise various groups like funding organizations, special interest groups and the media; and

Encourage both quantitative and qualitative studies on the impact of diversity on the educational process.

Those who expressed an interest in convening such a working group thought that the research areas noted by the various national meetings on diversity should be encouraged and supported. These areas include:

Understanding the gains made by different student populations because of affirmative action;

Understanding the educational and social benefits of affirmative action/diversity to minority and white student populations;

Defining the long-range effects of affirmative action/diversity on the various student populations;

Examining the continuing effects of past and current discrimination as well as issues of possible re-segregation;

Coordinating institutional specific research on diversity and affirmative action;

Developing a re-conceptualization of merit and the use of standardized tests for issues of access; and

Examining the different experiences and values students bring to the educational experience.

 

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