Why are so many of your professors white men? A damning report recently released by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has an answer: McGill utterly fails in ensuring employment equity. The researchers behind the report found that McGill lacks the “commitment, formalized practice, and transparency” required to ensure fair hiring and employment practices. McGill’s Employment Equity Policy, passed in 2007, has had little effect. There is no guidance and leadership on equitable hiring. Racialized people, Indigenous people, and people with disabilities remain vastly underrepresented; and data on gender and sexual minorities is not being collected at all. It’s imperative that McGill prioritize equitable hiring practices with the full urgency the issue deserves.
Inspired by principles of affirmative action in the U.S., Canada’s 1986 Employment Equity Act sought to address systemic barriers to employment and discrimination in hiring faced by historically marginalized groups. It aimed to redistribute the unearned social and economic advantages enjoyed by privileged groups, in particular upper- and middle-class white men. Representation is all the more important in a university, a site of knowledge production and education: in the words of McGill professor Charmaine Nelson, “the [research] questions people pose come from their identity, because people understand the world through their own bodies” – through their race, gender, ability, sexuality. Moreover, underrepresentation at the faculty level promotes systemic discrimination at McGill, and impedes the potential progress of students belonging to marginalized groups.
McGill’s haphazard approach to equity in the form of ad-hoc committees and one-off reports has been unsuccessful, because the measures taken have not been accompanied by any serious effort to change the institutional culture. While it appears as though women have made some gains – women made up 50.8 per cent of those employed as McGill contract academic staff in 2014 – they still comprise only 31.6 per cent of tenure-track academic staff; further, these gains have not been seen for other groups, and not equally among women. To remedy this, McGill needs to adopt a more comprehensive approach to equity. As the report suggests, such an approach requires leadership on equity and intellectual diversity from the upper administration, mandatory equity training for hiring committees, and the development of accurate tracking mechanisms and accountability structures.
McGill lags behind other academic institutions on the issue of employment equity. Other universities such as Dalhousie, Queen’s, Western, York, and Windsor have equity offices with clear mandates to promote equity throughout the campus community. While the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office does much of this work at McGill, its role is merely consultative, and even then it is rarely consulted for hiring. The recommendations of SSMU’s report are the minimal necessary steps that McGill needs to take toward eliminating discriminatory employment practices. As institutions, universities have immense power in producing and disseminating knowledge, and McGill’s faculty should reflect the different realities that shape this knowledge.
—The McGill Daily editorial board