Letter: Positive discrimination is unfair (2)

November 9, 2001

It is a sad truism that the history of equality and diversity policy is one of two steps forward, one step back.

I am sure I am not alone in welcoming Cambridge University's decision to finally confront decades of white male privilege among academic staff. But I lament its intention to use positive discrimination as a strategy. At least one of its own - Gill Evans - recognises that positive discrimination is unfair to all, not to mention illegal.

More worrying is the university's implicit suggestion that excellence will have to be sacrificed on the altar of equality. Surely the reason why non-white, non-male, disabled academics fail to achieve promotion at Cambridge (and elsewhere) is not because they are not excellent but because promotion panels use criteria other than merit.

We need positive action to encourage a more inclusive appreciation of people's skills, talents and experiences, but if we have learnt anything from the past, it is that employing people because of who they are rather than what they can do is almost always disastrous.

Karen Ross
Centre for Communication, Culture and Media Studies
Coventry University

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