The University of Wisconsin Press

Education / Latino Studies / Anthropology / Sociology / Organizational Theory


Beyond Affirmative Action
Reframing the Context of Higher Education
Robert A. Ibarra

How universities can grow stronger by completely rethinking and transforming themselves to serve, and benefit from, multiple constituencies

A century ago, universities were primarily in the business of molding upper-class young men for the professions. The world has changed, and universities have been forced to keep pace by experimenting with affirmative action, curriculum overhauls, part-time degree programs, and the like. But at the core of the modern university establishment is an ingrained academic culture that has operated in the same ways for centuries, contends Robert Ibarra, and in Beyond Affirmative Action, he calls for a complete paradigm shift.

Why does academic culture, he asks, emphasize individual achievement over teamwork? Why do so many exams test discrete bits of knowledge rather than understanding of the big picture? Why is tenure awarded for scholarly publications rather than for sharing knowledge in diverse ways with students and a wider community? Why do undergraduates drop out? And why do so many bright graduate students and junior faculty—including many minorities, women, and some majority males—become disenchanted with academia or fail to be accepted and rewarded by the tenured faculty?

Ibarra introduces a theory of "multicontextuality," which proposes that many people learn better when teachers emphasize whole systems of knowledge and that education can create its greatest successes by offering and accepting many approaches to teaching and learning. This revolutionary paradigm also addresses why current thinking about academic systems and organizational culture, affirmative action, and diversity must be revised. Ibarra bases his groundbreaking proposals upon his own synthesis of findings from anthropological, educational, and psychological studies of how people from various cultures learn, as well as findings from extended interviews he conducted with Latinos and Latinas who pursued graduate degrees and then either became university faculty or chose other careers. From his perspectives as a practicing anthropologist, teacher, researcher, and administrator, Ibarra provides a blueprint for change that will interest:

  • Administrators developing campus strategic plans
  • Boards, commissions, and agencies making policy for educational institutions
  • Students and faculty struggling to find ways that academia can serve multiple constituencies
  • Academic and career advisors to students
  • Researchers in cognitive psychology, sociology, anthropology, education, and ethnic studies
  • Businesses rethinking their organizational cultures and strategies

"The most interesting new ideas about diversity in higher education that I've heard in many years."—Brian Foster, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, University of New Mexico

Robert A. Ibarra is assistant vice chancellor of academic affairs emeritus at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. He is the author of Latino Experiences in Graduate Education: Implications for Change.

Media & bookseller inquiries regarding review copies, events, and interviews can be directed to the publicity department at or (608) 263-0734. (If you want to examine a book for possible course use, please see our Course Books page. If you want to examine a book for possible rights licensing, please see Rights & Permissions.)

December 2000

320 pp.     6 x 9

Book icon
Paper $26.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-16904-6
E-book logo e-Book $19.95 s
ISBN 978-0-299-16903-9
Shopping cart ADD TO CART
  Review cart contents
Secure checkout

The cloth version of this title, ISBN978-0-299-16900-8, is out of print.

Home | Books | Journals | Events | Textbooks | Authors | Related | Search | Order | Contact

If you have trouble accessing any page in this web site, contact our Web manager.

Updated April 24, 2012

© 2012, The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System