Ok, here’s the thing. In the early days of equity consciousness at Canadian universities—roughly the ‘seventies—we started accepting the ugly facts—that women were underrepresented at virtually every level of academic life. This was true in the rank and file as much, if not even more so, among university administrators. By the ‘eighties, sexual harassment policies started to spring up and processes were negotiated into collective agreements. Many universities instituted equity action committees to ensure that short-listed candidates were gender balanced and that due was given to female applicants for research and teaching appointments.
So where have all the women gone?
Well, they’re around, but being overlooked.
The Canada Research program was launched with great enthusiasm in 2000, a reaction to cries from most research intensive universities in this country about brain drain. The idea was—and remains—to generate top-notch centres of research excellence from sea to sea to sea, retaining our best scholars while attracting Nobel Laureates and other stars in the firmament to our own scholarly lands. About $300 million is spent annually on these chairs, a rich envelope, to be sure. With all their flaws and problems, the CRCs are generally thought to be a good investment for our campuses.
As dazzling and “innovative” as the initiative was, social sciences and humanities researchers instantly wondered what was in it for them/us. Sometimes we still wonder. But, more to the point of this blog, the first round of announcements of awarded CRCs revealed that only 14% of the early Chairs had gone to women. Only 22% of Tier II Chairs and a mere 10% of the more prestigious Tier I Chairs went to women. Moreover, you didn’t need a special lens to note that all the program officials in the new secretariat were men—and that 83% of its international peer reviewers also possessed the x-y chromosome. Notably, loudly, some female academic leaders pointed all this out, rude as it was to disturb the patina of self-congratulatory excellence throughout the land. In short, the revelation hit the fan, er, the news, and by 2003 a team of eight women from across the country laid a formal complaint of discrimination with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The complaint embarrassed Ottawa and the Tri-Councils, and made a lot of people across the country pretty uncomfortable, but it was the only way to force change. Three years later the matter was “settled” in a negotiated agreement with Industry Canada, then the keeper of the CRC program.
And so here we are ten years after that settlement, and guess what? We are back to the future. Memorial, as with many universities across the country, has suffered a sort of Human Rights amnesia, to put it kindly, and recent stats aren’t doing us proud. By the fall of this year we will have only one woman in a CRC. At the very least, 1/3 of our allocation should be filled with women, and so what’s going on?
I can answer that with a long and killingly brutal analysis of gender discrimination, but you already know what I am going to say. Thing is, we now have the chance to catch up again. We have a number of searches in play and need to be attentive to this shameful gap in appointments. The CRC program gives us targets for our allocations, in keeping with the Human Rights complaint and subsequent resolution, and, as you already know, these include Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities, as well as women. There is absolutely no good reason why the imbalance has crept back into our processes and appointments. Not one. Neglect, I like to say, is a form of hostility. Let’s get over it and kick some equity ass, please.
On a happier note, Memorial is proud to have just announced its first female dean of Medicine, Dr. Margaret Steele, who will assume duties mid August. But get this: she will become one of only two female deans of Medicine in this country. Yeah, because it’s 2016.