Monthly Archives: June 2016


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.

Blog57Source: House of Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador,


So far, June is proving to be a tough stretch for those living in this province. The weather always sucks at this time of year, but yet, as sure as a lawn of dandelions, we always feel let down, as if northeasterly winds were suddenly going to stop blowing across our faces and the fog monster would retreat to some other less deserving island. Taxi drivers shrug, asking you what do you expect? No, it’s not fit, but you live here. Get over it. Still, a body born in the western hemisphere knows that June should be warmer. Perennials defy the persistence of chill and insist on showing up, opening themselves up to light and bees. Their very existence teases us every year into thinking spring must have arrived. It’s too cold and wet for a walk in the garden most days, and so I stare at the brave show of tulips, forget-me-nots, and bleeding hearts through a window, standing in a warm room, where anyone sensible belongs.

June is also the cruellest month right here right now, as the political climate perfectly matches the natural climate—that is to say, more unstable than expected or desired. I write this in the aftermath of a long filibuster in our House of Assembly, as the opposition tried to delay a vote on a budget no one likes. Some say the political theatre was just that, a waste of time and money, while others believe the dissent of the “people” was being entered in the official record. Both of these things I take to be true. Given a choice, I would rather see the officials grandstanding in the House. At the very least, the circus was endlessly entertaining. Not all politicians are created equal. Some can barely utter a sentence without committing gross acts of grammatical violence; others are real characters, as we like to say here—that is, surprisingly funny and articulate, shrewdly balancing a sense of play against the seriousness of the matter at hand.  Clearly some need much better tailors. The twitter feeds following some of these performances were nothing short of hilarious. The whole thing was a spectacle 100% produced and executed in Newfoundland–just can’t imagine the mess of it, with all its diversions, tangents, personalities, kitchen-party anecdotes, sleepy-brained utterances, bursts of wit, and numbing platitudes being performed anywhere but here. I imagine that like a lot of people I just couldn’t stop watching the live stream.

The spectacle should have been rich fodder for folklorists, but also rich fieldwork for Memorial political scientists who have been given irresistible opportunities to comment on the government’s handling of the budget. From a communications perspective, many agree it’s been a disaster, a textbook case of how to get it wrong. The commentary on the filibustering, largely in social media, has been rich, as well. Some of it has been really funny, but in general there was a robust stream of chatter about both the characters getting up to speak and the whole increasingly dysfunctional provincial scene. Unintended, to be sure, but the provincial budget has generated a mountain of reactions from taxpayers, who, ultimately, don’t really disagree that much with each other so much as resent the insensitive way government went about trying to patch a budgetary sinkhole. That said, there is no doubt a lot of people are angry, many are demoralized, and some are just plain silly, calling for resignations and/or wholesale overthrow. As if that would change anything. Someday, someone in government will reveal how s/he wished things had been handled differently from the start. For now, democracy is playing itself out, and it’s been bloody interesting.

From my perspective, among other themes missing in all the oppositional politics are some clear-headed statements about regional sustainability. It’s interesting how conspicuously absent from the ranting and roaring is any focus on rural Newfoundland and the enormous costs of keeping communities alive.  But you can’t really talk about that—way too political. I just heard Richard Florida speaking in Toronto on the rapid growth of cities, and of how high is the percentage of humanity currently living in urban areas. That’s where the jobs are, and where opportunity flourishes. Florida is all about building robust, creative, inclusive, entrepreneurial cities, of course, but you don’t hear much talk about urbanization in our local discourse—in town or beyond.

No, we have been immersed in the last three weeks or so in a cacophony of negativity, a kind of general collective angst about an uncertain future. Juvenile exercises, like down-with-buddy posters, don’t really speak to us about confronting real challenges. Our political leadership, as I have written before, has failed to provide any encouraging forward-looking narrative, and so they must acknowledge they created the backlash. But the protest has been singularly shallow, personalizing, and sometimes just plain ugly. A friend recently tweeted that the province is just too small for an “us” and “them” sing-song and I couldn’t agree more. It’s so much easier to keep blaming the other guy than coming up with solutions together.

As for Memorial in all this, well, we just graduated about 2500 students who will scatter out in the world with new credentials and a lot of expectation. More than ever, we are contributing to the social and economic health of this province. University-educated people will earn significantly more—more than double–over their lifetimes than those who do not hold degrees. That’s a fact. Our graduate student application rate is soaring. Obviously the university remains a destination for the whole world. More than ever we need an educated society to help fix the problems we face, to change attitudes, move ahead, and to be honest about the real source of our discontent. We are trying to do our bit to help the province move ahead, but it’s not easy in light of deep cuts now and ahead, and so we need to ensure our politicians actually understand the value Memorial brings to the province. That’s practically a full-time job in itself.

What we know: post-secondary degree holders pay more taxes; we buy more goods and services, are more productive and less dependent on government through social service programs; we vote more and go to prison less; we have better health care and live longer. Investment in education is worth it—pointe finale. Do we really need to convince elected officials of these facts? Apparently. Actually, we need every citizen to know them, not just politicians. Listening to both the filibustering and the river of protest sloganeering for the last several weeks I am more convinced of that than ever.

Blog May 30

This is convocation week, an important time in our calendar marking a rite of passage for some 2500 graduates. As enrolment has grown through the years so has the number of convocation sessions. We are averaging nine separate events every spring now on the St. John’s campus alone, a marathon for those of us who have to dress up and look attentive on stage in the full glare of key lights. I’m not complaining. I really enjoy convocation. I figure that being surrounded by all that positive energy from grads, friends and family must have a beneficial effect on one’s well being, probably enough to knock a flu bug out of one’s system. Not enough to stop the circus that is NL politics, however. Best thing about convocation this week: being distracted from that circus by much happier, saner, forward-looking stuff.

This year, 91 students who identify as Aboriginal will be receiving their degrees. I am not sure if that’s a record but it must be close to one. That figure might seem small but really it’s not. Memorial has steadily been making dedicated efforts to provide opportunities for eligible Aboriginal students in this province, as we must. Lots of research in Canada points to the very low—and, at times, declining—numbers of Aboriginal students in postsecondary education. In the 2000s that number fell pretty dramatically.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, formally launched a year ago, has significantly helped change that trend. The TRC Report includes 94 recommendations—or, more appropriately, Calls to Action–a number of these directly concerning postsecondary education. Several Canadian universities have started to respond to these calls. Notably, last year the Senate of the University of Winnipeg passed a proposal to require all students to take a course focusing on the rights, traditions, history, governance or other facets of indigenous culture. It’s a good start, but it’s also worth noting that the TRC specifically calls for required courses with Aboriginal content in medical, nursing, law, and social work fields. Makes sense. Typically, such courses were located in arts faculties where, say, English or Sociology departments offered a few courses with Aboriginal material. Indeed, our Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences has launched a Certificate program in Aboriginal Studies, timely and necessary. That’s fine, but the TRC makes it clear that education about Aboriginal history and culture must extend much more widely in our system, and more deeply into every faculty and school. Arts should not have to shoulder the responsibility of reconciliation by itself.

The 91 Aboriginal students graduating from Memorial this week come from all over the program spectrum, with the highest number graduating with a degree in Science. That, in a word, is awesome. No one area claims a vast majority. Aboriginal students are pursuing their own interests right across the whole spectrum of our offerings.

We have to be careful to avoid token gestures. We have to ensure we are not asking Aboriginal students to do all the heavy lifting. Memorial should be taking full charge of responding to the TRC calls. Awareness of those calls needs to be top of mind, all the time, in everything we do. We have a lot of work to do—and I do mean we.