Affirmative Action -- What's These Corporations' Incentive For Vocal Support Of It?

Please note – this is neither an attack on or apologia for AA (though anticipating that views pro and con will necessarily have to be aired if only indirectly, I put it in GD to begin with).

Numerous companies have gone to the trouble of filing amicus curiae brief defending U. Michigan’s AA policies.

Now, depending on how cynical you are about corporations, you may or may not agree with the proposition that they generally are motivated mainly by immediate economic self-interest. You certainly may or may not agree with the proposition that AA has either a net neutral immediate economic effect, or a net negative economic effect in the short term, for corporations (because, e.g., AA programs typically require incremental administration/bookeeping/regulation/bureaucracy, and businesses stereotypically are anti-bureaucracy).

I’m not immediately seeing why, as a matter of economic self-interest, companies are thronging to intervene in this dispute. Maybe I’m overly cynical and the companies are spending their legal fees solely in support of principle, a principle in which they truly believe. I can see several possible alternative scenarios as well:

  1. AA and diversity programs in corporations give a competitive edge. But this doesn’t necessarily explain the amicus filings because (a) companies, unlike universities, are not state actors and thus not governed by equal protection/due process, and so are subject to somewhat less regulation in their adoption of employment and retention policies; and (b) if there is a competitive edge from AA/diversity programs, wouldn’t companies prefer to keep this edge secret and limit its use to as few institutions as possible?

  2. AA and diversity programs in corporations are a drag on productivity. But corporations can’t afford to be seen as anti-AA, so they oppose any move, anywhere, that would make the (currently near universal) adoption of AA programs in corporations and universities an open question once again, thus posing them the intolerable prospect of losing competitive edge by keeping (supposedly inefficient) AA programs while their peers dropped them, or losing public relations face by dropping them while some peers kept them.

  3. Corporations are hoping to fob off the whole AA/diversity issue and its attendant political headaches on universities, so they can dodge the issue (not clear that this reflects current reality, as there don’t seem to be many corporations who don’t at least on paper adopt/administer some sort of AA/“outreach” policy – but maybe they’re trying to avert even more demands from activists (cf. J. Jackson’s Wall Street initiatives/“holdups” depending on who you ask) by saying that “equal access” issues can be and should be (and are being) handled at the educational level)?

  4. Corporations are fearing their own programs will be subject to judicial challenge (under the Civil Rights Act), and that because they have deep pockets, they could thereafter face big potential reverse discrimination liability if AA is truly discredited, so – having embraced AA half-heartedly to avert “regular” discrimination suits – they are going to ride AA into the ground to prevent being damned from all sides?

  5. Corporations are pandering to elite opinion/the masses by trying to appear concerned about an issue they never wanted to adopt and don’t truly care about?

Other thoughts?

A simpler way of posing my question would have been, why do these companies, at this time, think they have a dog in this fight, either way?

A sixth possibility:

  1. Corporations are composed of people (stockholders, executives, etc.) who actually do try to do the ethical thing and honestly do support AA.

I realize that it’s a bit naive – but I have found that it rarely hurts in the long run to believe the best about someone.

Another take on 5:

Any decision either for or against AA in the U of M case is likely to be very narrow, and won’t really touch the corporations at all. Filing amicus briefs is a politically costless activity, it allows the corporations to get the benefit of seeming to care to those who think it is important, and it costs them next to nothing with the Anti-AA crowd. Can you see a boycott being organized against GM for filing an amicus brief for U of M? No, but you can bet there would be a call for a boycott if they went the other way.

Corporations often face intense bidding wars to hire minority graduates of top universities. Anything that threatens to interdict this supply of graduates will arouse corporate ire. Hence corporate support for maintaining AA at state-run universities.

Polycarp, I have to take issue with your post because it assumes that support for state-run AA is the “ethical” position. Even if a corporate executive does believe that, he or she shouldn’t use corporate resources to further a political agenda (in this case, having corporate lawyers compose an “amicus” brief) unless he or she believes it also advances the interests of the corporation.

One reason may be to avoid being sued for racial discrimination. Discrimination is often hard to disprove. One way to disprove it is by having what someone might deem the “proper ratios” of minorities. Affirmative action is a means of accomplishing this.

I have to second jklann’s take on ethics (re: Polycarp).

And I can tell you that I personally know one of the CEOs of one of the big companies filing an amicus brief and he ABSOLUTELY opposes AA. I gotta go with the “hey, look at us, we’re not racist” reason. Not across the board, but I’d guess more often than not.

Yup, if a company needs to hire minorities in order to fulfill affirmative action, it’s to their advantage if they can easily hire competent people, rather than tokens that consume payroll without enhancing profitability.

Its law suit insurance. If AA is constitutional then they can’t be sued by white people. If AA is unconstitutional then they say “Don’t sue us, we are so non-rascist we tried to keep AA legal”