Labels and images have become central in the controversies surrounding
affirmative action. To some people, affirmative action means making equal
opportunity concrete, while to others it means reverse discrimination.
To some people, affirmative action is only a partial compensation for monumental
wrongs, while to others it just means replacing competent whites with incompetent
blacks. The reality of affirmative action is much more complex than the
labels and images, both in concept and in practice.
To make these
intricate and emotionally charged issues manageable, it is necessary (1)
to distinguish the basic concepts and legal rationale of affirmative action
from the many specific laws, regulations, and practices that have developed
under the affirmative action label, (2) to measure in some general terms
the magnitude of the problem that affirmative action programs were intended
to solve or ameliorate, (3) to consider the actual results achieved and
the general trends set in motion by these programs, and finally (4) to
weigh the implications of affirmative action policies for those directly
affected and for society in general.
This study draws
upon the large general literature on race and sex differentials in employment,
pay, and promotion prospects. In addition, it presents some original data
specifically focused on academic employment, pay, and promotion. For many
occupations, the fact that some of the factors determining individual qualifications
for jobs are intangible makes it difficult to determine how much of the
observed difference in end results is due to discriminatory treatment and
how much to differences in the relevant capabilities. For the academic
profession, however, many of the job qualifications that are either conceptually
or statistically elusive in other occupations are spelled out-most bluntly
in the “publish or perish” rule. For example, the possession or non-possession
of a Ph.D. is crucial to an academic career, and the quality of the department
at which the Ph.D. was earned is of major importance at the outset of a
career and exerts a continuing influence for years thereafter.1
Comprehensive data available from the American Council on Education cover
both the degree level of academic individuals and the respective disciplines’
own rankings of the various university departments which issue those degrees,
as well as the publication records and academic salaries of individuals
by race and sex. In addition, the National Academy of Sciences has made
available data collected by the National Science Foundation on holders
of doctoral degrees (Ph.D.s, M.D.s, and other doctorates) in various fields
by race and sex. In short, the academic profession offers a unique combination
of known job requirements and salary data with which to determine to what
extent group differences in pay represent group differences in job requirements
rather than employer discrimination.
I am grateful to the Liberty Fund for the research grant that made this study possible.
1 Theodore Caplow and Reece J. McGee, The
Academic Marketplace (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1961), p. 225; David G. Brown, The Mobile Professors (Washington, D. C.: American Council on Education, 1967), p. 97.