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The Shape of the River: Long-Term Consequences of Considering Race in College and University Admissions Hardcover – September 4, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0691002743 ISBN-10: 0691002746 Edition: With a New introduction by the authors

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; With a New introduction by the authors edition (September 4, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691002746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691002743
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #122,010 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Though the whole idea of racial preferences in higher education has become a flash point of controversy, neither side of the argument has had hard empirical evidence upon which to base its claims. This is precisely the kind of information former university presidents Bowen and Bok attempt to provide, by examining the admissions policies of several (unnamed) institutions and following the fortunes of their minority graduates over a period of years. What they find is certainly provocative--and if, in the end, Bowen and Bok still haven't answered the affirmative-action conundrum, they've taken a valuable first step toward providing some of the necessary facts for an intelligent discussion of the issue.


Winner of the 2001 Grawemeyer Award in Education

Winner of the 1999 Award for Best Professional/Scholarly Book in Government and Political Science, Association of American Publishers

"The most ambitious and authoritative study to date of the effects of affirmative action in higher education, . . . a serious (though accessible) work of research, . . . an important corrective to conservative propaganda masquerading as social science."--Ellis Cose, Newsweek

"A compelling new book . . . demonstrates why affirmative action programs can be good for the country. . . . The authors prove with facts, not anecdotes, that affirmative action works. . . . With the presidential commission having fallen flat in trying to advance the national discussion on race, it may be the smaller-scale efforts, like the Bowen and Bok book, that better lay the groundwork for long-term change."--Los Angeles Times

"No study of this magnitude has been attempted before. Its findings provide a strong rationale for opposing current efforts to demolish race-sensitive policies in colleges across the country. . . . The evidence collected flatly refutes many of the misimpressions of affirmative-action opponents."--The New York Times

"The Shape of the River is the most comprehensive study ever done of affirmative action in higher education, and it demands the attention of anyone who cares about American universities."--David Gergen, U.S. News and World Report

"The Shape of the River . . . offers much more comprehensive statistics and much more sophisticated analysis than has been available before. Impressionistic and anecdotal evidence will no longer suffice: any respectable discussion of the consequences of affirmative action in universities must now either acknowledge its findings or challenge them, and any challenge must match the standards of breadth and statistical professionalism that Bowen, Bok, and their colleagues have achieved."--Ronald Dworkin, New York Review of Books

"What is good for business in this case is good for society too--good for us all. This report may, at last, make that fact evident even to the most obtuse."--Garry Wills, The Plain Dealer

"On the strength of [the authors'] credentials the reader can expect much, and much is delivered.... The Shape of the River is a monumental achievement. Its foundation is so solidly anchored to a bedrock of data that it will be relied upon as a navigational beacon for years to come."--Robert E. Thatch, Science

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 58 people found the following review helpful By on August 6, 1999
Misters Bowen and Bok have written two books superimposed on one another.
One book is a careful, dispassionate explication of a significant data set obtained over more than two decades for student cohorts at a set of colleges and universities practicing selective admission. These data to do not make a case for or against affirmative action in admission. They are however an extremely valuable resource for placing discussions about selective admission on a factual basis. It seems silly to this reviewer to debate whether the data are "scientific" or not. For other reviewers in this space to have attacked the book without substantiation as "unscientific" only reveals their own bias in this heated debate.
The other book is one of opinion and political values. Bowen and Bok argue a traditional progressive line of thought: that the most prestigious institutions have a responsibility to build a better society and that part of this mission is achieved by helping downtrodden segments of society to better themselves. No set of data can prove these values to be correct, nor can any data refute the dominant opposing view: that admission to the most prestigious institutions should be a reward for great personal merit as measured by an examination system. These are human values that, like religious beliefs, are not subject to straightforward empirical verification.
Readers on either side of the affirmative action debate will find some solace in the data presented in this book. Read with care, this book can provide a basis for more constructive debate. Take for example the famous Thomas Sowell assertion, cited (as Gospel!) by the Reader from Lansing, that students admitted to prestigious schools under an affirmative action plan will have a poor success rate.
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17 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 27, 1998
I was really impressed by this book, and I came to it as a skeptic. I've never been a big fan of affirmative action in the awarding of contracts, but I've always been more ambivalent when it came to programs that were about giving opportunity. It's not like my SATs were through the roof and I've done okay in life.
It impressed me were that Bowen and Bok weren't screaming "agenda" in the book, even though they clearly come out saying that these programs help society in a lot of ways. But they give the minuses as well, and so they don't strike me as the rampant ideologues that seem to dominate any conversation we have about public policy in this country.
They also have a ton of data that seems like it was carefully collected rather then your normal "instant" poll of 14 people. One of the big things that I learned from all these data was that the white alumni report that they learned a lot in college about how to get along with people of other races. They want these programs, not just the blacks. A few notable conservative voices may think that these schools shouldn't have these policies but apparently 79 percent of the people who went to these schools think that they should (or even have stronger policies like them), so I would think that they deserve a little more say in the matter.
I don't really understand the earlier comment by the reader from Lansing. I don't see where this book says that only by going to these schools will people succeed. Also, if (as the reader argues) people who would end up being bumped down to the next level end up doing just fine (as I'm sure many would) then why does it matter who gets into the better schools? You can't have it both ways.
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32 of 49 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 14, 1998
Here is a book that will be important because of the importance of its authors. Derek Bok and William Bowen are both former presidents of Ivy League colleges.
I will not make any effort to analyze every aspect of their book, but as an educational researcher I believe that there is a need to be critical of the methods used to arrive at their conclusion--namely, that race-based admission policies have increased opportunities for black students to obtain jobs in professions that have been mainly closed to them.
The authors provide nothing by the way of a reasonably scientific attempt to determine the accuracy of their claim. If they really wanted to prove their point, it would be necessary for them to show that, had there been no "race-sensitive" admissions policies, the students who were enabled to attend prestigious colleges and universities because of race-sensitivity would not have been successful in life.
It seems the height of snobbery and arrogance to have former presidents of "prestigious" institutions claiming that the policies they used, and the education their schools delivered to the students, have been the "cause" of the success of these students. Implicit in this view is the suggestion that only by attending universities like Harvard or Princeton--and not some other college or university (without the "assistance" of race-based admissions policies)--could these students have achieved success.
Thomas Sowell has opined that students who are rejected from Berkeley, or any other selective college, would probably do quite well at some other (less selective) institution where they would be in the mainstream (i.e., among students of similar ability).
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