THE PURSUIT OF FAIRNESS: A History of Affirmative Action

Terry H. Anderson, Author . Oxford Univ. $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-515764-2

Anderson (The Movement and the Sixties ), a history professor at Texas A&M, offers a straightforward political history of affirmative action. He traces the genesis of the policy to the Roosevelt and Truman administrations, which made efforts at nondiscrimination in public works projects and the military. The Civil Rights movement birthed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as well as lingering questions about how to prove discrimination, how to enforce antidiscrimination orders and whether preferences were needed to overcome past discrimination. The zenith of affirmative action, it turns out, came under Richard Nixon, whose secretary of labor, George Shultz, required federal contractors to set goals and targets for minority employment. The concept soon wound up in the courts, and Anderson provides good summaries of relevant cases, from the 1978 Bakke decision to last year's cases involving the University of Michigan. The backlash began in the 1980s, under Ronald Reagan, as enforcement lagged and the Justice Department sought cases to curtail affirmative action. In the 1990s, the rhetoric shifted to "diversity," an easier concept for politicians to embrace, and university systems in California and Texas were forced to give up preferences. (The winners at select universities: Asians.) Many cities and businesses have institutionalized the policy, and affirmative action has created a very different workplace in 40 years—with little damage to firm competitiveness or fair employment practices, says the author. Still, Anderson concludes by acknowledging a host of questions about whom the policy should help. Though Anderson aims at an evenhanded tone, he could have paid more attention to notable polemics on this topic. He omits examination of affirmative action programs in the U.S. military and would have done well to at least note some international experiences. Photos not seen by PW. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/12/2004
Release date: 05/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Open Ebook - 345 pages - 978-0-19-803583-1
Paperback - 344 pages - 978-0-19-518245-3
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