Oxford economics students briefed on future of Affirmative Action

Oxford College students in professor Frank Maddox's economics class had the opportunity to learn about Affirmative Action, equal opportunity programs and their role in the Emory community when Robert Ethridge, associate vice president and director of Equal Opportunity Programs (EOP), spoke to the class on Sept. 20.

Maddox had asked Ethridge to speak so students could learn about the problems of discrimination on an economic level. Maddox said the class had discussed the theory that the capitalistic economic market makes the best decisions about the market itself, but discrimination and its repercussions are one example of market failure. Ethridge enlightened students on ways Emory aims to correct this failure by outlining the goals and tenets of Affirmative Action, discussing how the EOP works and answering questions from students.

"[The EOP] makes sure that everyone at Emory is treated fairly," Ethridge said. From an Affirmative Action standpoint, Ethridge said Emory strives to recruit women and minorities at all levels of the university, ensures that disability services are upheld and makes sure age discrimination does not occur.

"As an institution, we believe all opinions are important. We don't mind finding varied opinions," Ethridge said. To do this, he explained that every faculty, staff and student candidate is considered in a pool. "We look at everyone who's in the pool," he said, and weigh every candidate by the same criteria. When the qualified members within the pool are determined, Emory looks at nationwide statistics to meet its institutional goals. "If we find that 10 percent of economics professors in the nation are women, our goal is to have or exceed 10 percent of women economics professors at Emory," he said.

"One problem in higher education is that we don't have enough qualified women and minorities applying who meet our standards," Ethridge continued. "We can only hope our goals are inadvertently met by recruiting people into higher education."

In this arena and others, Ethridge said his position with the EOP is reactive as well as proactive. "Our goal is to make our population diverse," he said. In addition, "if any faction of the University ends up discriminating against anyone, we go out, find the impediment, and correct it as soon as possible."

From a political standpoint, Ethridge explained that Emory puts forth the effort to nurture diversity, not monitor it, on both the faculty/staff and student body levels through recruitment programs and services. Because Affirmative Action programs have become politically and socially controversial in recent years, Ethridge emphasized the importance of "knowing the laws and keeping up with them."

In conjunction with this, Emory does not have separate categories, cutoffs or specific quotas for minorities and non-minorities, which was the source of controversy over Affirmative Action programs this summer in a case filed against the University of Texas law school. In compliance with the law, Emory "uses the same pool for all applicants, has no specific number as a quota and doesn't fire someone from a position to bring in a member of a minority group," Ethridge said.

Insofar as changing laws concerning Affirmative Action are concerned, Ethridge said the EOP will maintain close contact with the General Counsel's office to ensure that the EOP's policies, procedures and programs do not cross legal boundaries.

Ethridge said Affirmative Action programs ultimately benefit everyone by encouraging diversity in the community. "The majority of the country who understands what Affirmative Action is about use it properly and do it the right way."

"My ultimate goal is to work myself out of a job," Ethridge said. "We still have many cases filed with the EOP; that information should lead you to believe that you still have a lot of work to do."

--Danielle Service

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