Frequently Asked Questions
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Understanding Affirmative Action can be a lengthy and confusing process. The purpose of Affirmative Action is to overcome the history of the subordination and segregation of certain groups of people in our society. There are two different levels of Affirmative Action: the federal and the state. The federal level concerns itself with age, race, gender, national origin, and disability discrimination. At the state level there is considerable variation in the kinds of discriminations forbidden by law. The state of Wisconsin has anti-discrimination laws concerning: marital status; pregnancy; parental status; sexual orientation; religion; ancestry; arrest or conviction record; membership in the National Guard, state defense force or any other reserve component of the military forces of the United States or this state as well as all areas that are listed under the federal level. Affirmative action requires employers to do more than ensure employment and educational neutrality for women, racial/ethnic minorities, and persons with disabilities. As the phrase implies, affirmative action requires the employer to make additional efforts to recruit, employ, and promote qualified members of groups formerly excluded, even if the exclusion cannot be traced to particular discriminatory actions on the part of the employer. The underlying foundation of the affirmative action concept is that unless positive action is undertaken to overcome the effects of systemic institutional forms of exclusion and discrimination, benign neutrality in employment practices will perpetuate the status quo indefinitely. The primary objective of an affirmative action plan is to achieve equal employment opportunity as a sustaining and permanent feature of the workplace. This is accomplished through specific and result-oriented procedures set forth in an affirmative action program to which the employer is committed to apply every good faith effort.
The Equity & Affirmative Action Office deals with many different issues that relate to everyone on campus including:
- Discrimination. The Equity & Affirmative Action Office can field complaints and give information and advice about what students can do if they or someone they know is experiencing discrimination based on any condition mentioned under "What is Affirmative Action?" such as race, color, creed, national origin, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, parental status, marital status, disability, etc. Problems between staff members, between students, or between students and staff can be addressed.
- Resource Library. The office has a wide variety of resources such as magazines, journals, books, reports, and pamphlets covering such topics as civil rights, diversity, gender equality, sexual harassment and the American with Disabilities Act. Resources can be checked out by staff and students and returned within two weeks time. They are not only a good option for personal information but also for speeches and papers. Many additional resources on affirmative action are available in the Learning Resource Center.
- Affirmative Action Program Document. A copy of the Affirmative Action Program for Women and Minorities and a separate Affirmative Action Program for Veterans and the Disabled is available in our office as well as the LRC. The Affirmative Action Program contains information specific to the UWSP campus including:
- who is responsible for monitoring and implementing the Affirmative Action Program;
- the progress report, including trends on who has been hired and promoted, and the identification of problem areas;
- discrimination and non-discrimination guidelines; and 4) procedures for addressing affirmative action complaints.
- Training and programs. The Equity & Affirmative Action staff offers training in diversity, sexual harassment, affirmative action, and equal employment opportunity among other topics. Residence hall staff, professors, unit heads, and student groups and others are encouraged to make an appointment for Ron Strege to speak with students and staff.
- Monitoring job status. The Equity & Affirmative Action Office is directly involved with the recruitment and hiring process for faculty and academic/classified staff, assisting with the development of the recruitment plan, interview lists, and interview questions, reviewing the applicant pool and the final recommendation to hire. The Equity & Affirmative Action Office also monitors placements, transfers, promotions, and terminations at all levels to insure that non-discriminatory policies are carried out.
- Equity & Affirmative Action Committee. Students, faculty and staff are invited to attend the Equity & Affirmative Action Committee meetings which are held every other Wednesday or as posted in the Sundial. The Equity & Affirmative Action Committee, composed of faculty, staff, and students, acts as an advisory group to the Chancellor. It is responsible for reviewing and forwarding suggestions concerning the implementation of affirmative action to the administration.
Affirmative action began in 1965 with the Executive Order of President Lyndon B. Johnson. He stated that the United States needed to move beyond the passive non-discrimination laws that had already been enacted. Johnson also stated that companies needed to go further to guarantee that minorities and women were recruited in ways that improved their opportunities to be hired and move up in their jobs.
President Richard M. Nixon implemented goals and timetables to expand the affirmative action executive order. These goals and timetables provided specific guidelines for companies to use so that they would be in compliance with the federal regulations concerning affirmative action.
While Gerald R. Ford was the President, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Act of 1974 were enacted. These acts guaranteed that federal contractors had affirmative action programs established for recruiting and hiring people with disabilities and Vietnam veterans. The Age Discrimination Act of 1975 was also passed during Ford's presidency. This act barred discrimination in hiring or firing of older persons.
President Jimmy Carter centralized all of the federal agencies of affirmative action into one agency under the U. S. Department of Labor. In this way, all of the agencies could comply with each other in regulations and procedures. This centralized office is called the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP).
During President Ronald Reagan's and President George Bush's terms, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. This act prohibits discrimination in employment and requires increased accessibility to public accommodations.
President Bill Clinton articulated four standards of fairness for all affirmative action programs:
- no quotas in theory or practice;
- no illegal discrimination of any kind;
- no preference for people who are not qualified for any job or other opportunity; and
- as soon as a program has succeeded, it must be retired. Any program that does not meet these four principles must be eliminated or reformed to meet them.
Summarized from Judy's Affirtmative Action Page, http://www.wp.com/HIRSANE/aaction.html.
Frequently people wonder if affirmative action benefits members of protected groups at the expense of discriminating against members of others groups. The questions and answers presented here should help clarify this important issue.
Does affirmative action mean that we are applying different standards for white males than for women and minorities?
Affirmative action was never meant to encourage the hiring of any candidate who is less than qualified. One standard should be applied to all candidates. Assuming that there is a double standard implies that minorities and women are less qualified, generally, than white males. It is important that job-related criteria be used during the search and screen process and that all candidates be screened according to those criteria.
One should note here that the term "best qualified" is often very subjective, particularly in the absence of job-related criteria. One person's best is someone else's average. Often people are differently qualified to do the job and bring different, but equally important assets to the position. Candidates are frequently described as "best qualified" based on years of experience. That measure of qualification is often not valid, and also works against women and minorities who are frequently newer in their fields, but who may also be equally or better qualified than candidates who have more years of experience. Qualifications also are often measured by the candidate's degree-granting institution. This emphasis on the "top tier" schools (a very subjective description) also tends to work adversely against women and minorities. Knowledge about years of experience or degree-granting institutions does not necessarily provide sufficient information to predict the potential of a candidate.
Isn't affirmative action a form of reverse discrimination?
The concept of affirmative action recognizes the existence of historical discrimination as well as present discrimination against members of minority groups and women. It also includes the idea that every individual must be treated equally so that a position is awarded to the most qualified candidate. Affirmative action cannot change history, but it is designed, when properly implemented, to level the present playing field. Effective recruitment, which ensures the greatest likelihood of producing a diverse pool of candidates that includes minorities and women, is one way of implementing these ideas. Including such factors as a qualified candidate's ability to provide diversity to a department, to serve as a role model for other employees and students, and to offer a range of perspectives in the evaluation and selection process is another.
Do we have a "quota" of women and minorities that the university or its departments must hire?
The university and its departments have hiring goals, not quotas. Goals are designed to achieve greater inclusion of individuals who were previously excluded or underutilized. Ideally, the percentage of women and minorities working in a department, college or unit of the the university should be similar to the percentage of women and minorities available for such positions. Hiring goals are established for each department, school or division, in accordance with U.S. Department of Labor regulations. The goals are determined through consultation with the appropriate dean, director or department chair. Affirmative action means reaching out to candidates and giving all candidates fair consideration throughout the process.
Quotas, as opposed to goals, are assigned by courts to correct a pattern of discriminatory employment practices.
Adapted from: "Affirmative Action Recruitment Manual for Faculty and Professional and Scientific Searches," the University of Iowa.