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The Loophole In Affirmative Action Hiring Of Engineering Faculty

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Inquiring MINDs

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1163.1 - 7.1163.5



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Paper Authors

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Craig Somerton

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

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The Loophole in Affirmative Action Hiring of Engineering Faculty

Craig W. Somerton Department of Mechanical Engineering, Michigan State University

Introduction Over the past twenty years engineering administrators have come under increasing pressure, due to affirmative action, to hire minority and women faculty. This has posed a problem due to the very small pool of minority and women Ph.D. graduates in engineering across the country. One solution to this problem that has been implemented is to augment the hiring pool with foreign- born minorities holding (or nearly holding) permanent residence status. Though at first glance this seems a tenable solution, in fact, it cuts at the very heart of the rationale many of us use to justify affirmative action programs. With the current growing political opposition to affirmative action and the real possibility of the dismemberment of affirmative action programs, any approach that seems to weaken the justification for affirmative action can be and probably will be used in promoting its demise. I believe that such is the case presented by utilizing the foreign born as affirmative action candidates.

This paper continues with a brief discussion as to the reasons behind affirmative action, and presents a primary rationale for affirmative action. Evolving from this rationale is the argument that those who benefit from affirmative action should have a historical tie to the group that was originally disadvantaged. Data is then presented that shows a large fraction of affirmative action engineering faculty in the Big 10 are foreign born. Some anecdotal observations are provided that further emphasize the problem. Final remarks concerning the situation conclude this paper.

Why Affirmative Action? It would be presumptuous to try to address the above question in all of its complexity. This question is addressed from the personal perspective of one who has struggled with the concept of affirmative action during his academic career. Those of us who have supported affirmative action must also be supportive of equal opportunity. However, there is a real conundrum between affirmative action and equal opportunity. The primary thrust of equal opportunity is to make decisions concerning people based upon their abilities, talents, and achievements and not based upon color, ethnic heritage, or gender. That is, to be non-discriminatory. In affirmative action we do give preference to individuals because of their color, ethnic heritage, or gender. This appears to be in direct conflict with the efforts to achieve a non-discrimatory society in this country and certainly is contradictory to the basic premise of equal opportunity. Realizing that the university must be at the leading edge of promoting and establishing affirmative action, many of us, especially those who are more conservative by nature or upbringing, have had to develop rationalizations to justify affirmative action in the face of this contradiction with equal opportunity.

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright Ó 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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Somerton, C. (2002, June), The Loophole In Affirmative Action Hiring Of Engineering Faculty Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10491

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