Affirmative Action and Elitist Theory the Last Term Paper

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Affirmative Action and Elitist Theory

The last half of the 1900's saw a major change in society where people became more interconnected than ever before. Women entered the workforce and began to take on similar roles to men. This has continued up to the present time where the change is still continuing. People of different cultures also became more interconnected than ever before. Cultural barriers broke down and all cultures began to mix and began to be seen more equally. This may be a continuing trend, but equality is far from a reality. Women and men are still seen as different and still continue to be viewed differently in the workplace. Different cultures are also viewed differently. While on the surface, society may call for equality, on a realistic level, there is no doubt that people are still separated based on their differences.

It must also be noted that this is not a statement that this is either right or wrong. It may be a reality that people are different, it may also be a change that is required that will take a lot of adjustment to become a reality. This is not a statement that equality is either good or bad - it is simply a reality that people are different and are viewed differently based on their gender and cultural characteristics.

It is also important to note that society as a whole has placed a certain emphasis on equality as a good thing. Equality is often viewed as the opposite of discrimination, where discrimination is defined as "the hiring or promoting of applicants based on criteria that are not job relevant" (Daft 1997, 417). This has implications in that items of difference can be seen as discrimination even if they are job relevant. For example, a company may decide not to employ a Chinese person as a secretary.

This could be based on that individual not being able to speak English effectively, a criteria that is job relevant. Yet despite this job relevance, it is likely the choice would be viewed as a form of discrimination. This suggests that there may be a gap between what society as a whole accepts as good values and what is reasonable.

Affirmative action is one issue that takes the case for equality even further. Affirmative action is defined as "a policy requiring employers to take positive steps to guarantee equal employment opportunities for people within protected groups" (Daft 1997, 417). Affirmative action is based not on treating people equally, but on recognizing that people are not treated equally and making a certain effort to improve things for the disadvantaged group.

This affirmative action would at first appear to be something that the disadvantaged group would want. However, it is noted that this is not necessarily the case. Daft (1997, 417) explains the reality saying:

In recent years, the perception of affirmative action as a means for 'levelling the playing field' has been replaced by complaints of the program as a way of imposing quotas. Even the intended beneficiaries of affirmative action are divided on the need for continuation. For example, a 1995 poll revealed that 49% of women favor continuation of affirmative action while 41% oppose it."

The question this raises is why something is being pursed when the people it is supposed to help are not even in favor of it. The gap between what people want and what is happening can be explained by the elitist perspective of Thomas R. Dye.

Model for Analysis

The model for the analysis will be based on the elitist theory of Dye as he expresses in his book Understanding Public Policy. Dye argues that while it may seem that public policy reflects the needs of the people, it really reflects the needs of the elite few that shape public policy. The majority of the people are not informed enough about public policy to be able to form adequate opinions. Therefore, the elite few that are in power make these decisions and they flow downwards to the people. To express this idea further, it is best to use Dye's own words:

Elite theory suggests that "the people" are apathetic and ill-informed about public policy, that elites actually shape mass opinion on policy questions more than the masses shape elite opinion. Thus, public policy really turns out to be the preferences of elites. Public officials and administrators merely carry out the policies decided upon by the elite. Policies flow "downward" from elites to masses; they do not arise from mass demands" (Dye 1992, 28).

Dye goes on to state that these elite are the individuals who hold the highest positions in American society. These highest positions include positions in large corporations, the government, educational organizations and other organizations that are capable of impacting on society.

Dye expresses his views on how these elite impact public policy via his "Oligarchical Model of National Policy-Making" presented in his book Who's Running America: The Clinton Years. In this work Dye describes this model saying:

The model assumes that the initial resources for research, study, planning, and formulation of national policy are derived from corporate and personal wealth. This wealth is channeled into foundations, universities, and policy-planning groups in the form of endowments, grants, and contracts... In short, corporate and personal wealth provides both the financial resources and the overall direction of policy research, planning, and development" (Dye 1995, 220).

In summary, this model of Dye's suggests that the decisions for public policy are based on these institutions of society. If this is correct, the actions of public policy should be reflected in the institutions of society.

Affirmative action is one issue that has become part of public policy. Several types of institutions will now be considered to determine their actions and views on the issue. According to Dye, the views of these organizations should reflect public policy. This analysis will now be completing by considering corporations, foundations, universities, interest groups, policy planning groups and think tanks, government commissions and councils, and political parties.


Dye (1995, 14) notes that corporations have a lot of power because of their economic resources. With this being said, the greater the resources, the greater the power. It is most relevant then to look at the strongest American companies and to find these, one looks to the Fortune 500. One article notes action taken by several of the Fortune 500 companies showing their support for affirmative action. The report describes how 16 Fortune 500 companies "filed a brief in U.S. District Court championing Michigan University's support of affirmative action programs" (O'Keefe 2000). The brief is quoted as saying:

The students of today are this country's corporate and community leaders of the next half century... For these students to realize their potential as leaders, it is essential that they be educated in an environment where they are exposed to diverse ideas, perspectives, and interactions" (O'Keefe 2000).

This statement makes it apparent that the organizations are championing the move for their own benefit. They are not stating the benefits to the individuals, but rather the benefits to themselves. It must be wondered if there are other reasons behind the support for affirmative action in schools. For example, organizations such as these would be aware that affirmative action is their responsibility as well. The legal ramifications for an organization are significant enough that the issue would matter to them. By supporting the change in universities, the organizations are actually taking the responsibility off themselves. In short, if everyone is exposed to the same environment, everyone becomes more equal. The organization is then not disadvantaged by having to apply affirmation action to the workplace. This is a good reason for corporations to support affirmative action in schools even if they do not support the concept as a whole. Essentially, if affirmative action is a reality for the organization, the focus may as well begin at university level so the organization is not the first step in the process.

This is a good example of how actions by corporations are not necessarily for the good of the average citizen. Corporations are more likely to put the business environment and their own performance ahead of the interests of society as a whole. Even though corporations may not have the needs of the people as their major concern, they still have the power to impact social issues. Therefore, corporations can support issues that are to their benefit, not to the benefit of the people.


The American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA) is one that is clearly on the side of affirmative action. In Dye's argument on elitist theory he noted that foundations derive power by supporting research projects that complement their beliefs (Dye 1995, 134). The AAAA web site includes the following statement:

The American Association for Affirmative Action (AAAA)

Educational Foundation received its 501 -(3) tax-exempt status on August 18, 1997 to pursue its mission to provide resources for research and development initiatives that promote and enhance access…

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