The scenario described in Hera Chan and Nicolas Quiazua’s article (“McGill School of Social Work accused of perpetuating systemic racism,” News, October 28, page 3) about Ed Lee’s important complaint regarding racist hiring practices at McGill did not surprise me. One detail that stands out as especially familiar is the search committee’s use of internally adopted criteria that are not included in public job postings.
This has been the case in every hiring committee I have been a part of at McGill (and at other universities), and in some cases internal and vague criteria have been used to eliminate candidates of colour, as well as queer candidates, from consideration. I have not witnessed a case when challenges to such eliminations within a committee were successful (at McGill or any other university). In one case, a candidate of colour was not shortlisted because several committee members asserted she was not “stellar enough” for McGill, whatever that means.
The fact is that the vast majority of people applying for academic jobs at McGill are highly and often comparably qualified, which means hiring decisions tend to come down to matters of taste, personality, pedigree, and other subjective and vague criteria that never appear in job announcements and have nothing to do with merit, qualifications, et cetera. McGill is not unique in this regard, but McGill certainly provides mushroom soil for racist and hierarchical decision-making in search committees, and some departments and programs seem to be more egregious than others. In some fields where there are many more candidates than there are jobs, scores of exceptionally qualified academics never make shortlists.
Ed Lee’s complaint exposes the need for faculty and administrators to have some serious and honest discussions about how hiring decisions are really made, what really underwrites the vague language of “excellence,” and how the very structure of the University and its hiring practices maintain inequalities.
Associate Professor, East Asian Studies