Commentary  New hiring policies await implementation

Hyde Park

In theory, McGill has made a leap forward with its new Equity Policy, which was approved by the Senate and Board of Governors in Spring 2007. Unlike the former Gender Equity Policy, which only targeted women, the new policy aims to attract all “historically disadvantaged groups in Canada,” including visible minorities, indigenous peoples, ethnic minorities whose mother tongue is neither French nor English, disabled persons, persons of minority sexual orientations, and gender identities and women.

Yet, looking at the composition of staff at McGill, one wonders how effective this new policy has been. There is no doubt that the McGill student body is more diverse than its faculty. Though the Employment Equity Policy is one mode of combating this, it has had few tangible results thus far. Gathering information is even more difficult. Since this policy was established, a report on hiring has yet to come out, and McGill Human Resources refuses to provide data on a regular basis, making it difficult to compare the faculty make-up before and after the policy’s implementation.

Two years ago, the Senate Subcommittee on Women published a shocking report on the hiring and promotion of female faculty at McGill. But following a pleasant presentation of the findings to the deans, the report was quietly filed away. While over 40 per cent more females than males were receiving PhDs in the Faculty of Music, male professors outnumbered female professors by 69 per cent. The ratio of students interested in these fields clearly isn’t represented in the faculty.

The report also pointed out that even in disciplines where women were underrepresented – of which there were many – there was no increase in the hiring of women. Perhaps as then-chair of the subcommittee Dr. Kathy Cullen optimistically suggested, this wasn’t due to systemic biases, but instead the fact that “faculty tend to hire people similar to them.”

The problem is universal. Even in Sweden, a country at the top of the list for providing equal opportunities to men and women, female postdoctoral fellows had to be two-and-a-half times more productive than their male counterparts to receive the same opportunities. Cullen also pointed out that while there are few women at McGill, there are even less women of colour here.

Some universities are working to reverse this trend. Dr. Evelynn Hammonds, Dean of Harvard College and former Senior Vice-Provost of Faculty Development and Diversity there, who recently spoke at McGill on the topic of women in academia, began a Task Force on Women at Harvard.

The Task Force assists in retaining and hiring women at Harvard, and was created following former Harvard President Lawrence Summers’s controversial remarks about why there were fewer women than men in many science and engineering fields. Summers granted Hammonds a whopping budget of $50-million to create and head the Faculty Development and Diversity office.

Might this be an approach for McGill to emulate? The University could follow this route, but as a public institution constantly struggling with its finances, it is more concerned with paying for maintenance repairs than establishing task forces. A recent article in The McGill Reporter featured blurbs on seven new professors, four of whom were women. It was a promising start, especially considering all four were from overseas: Korea, Japan, India, and Germany.

However, this could just be yet another attempt to boast about our allegedly-diverse faculty to prospective donors. These women all fall under many of the “designated groups” McGill aims to hire – female visible minorities with non-French or English mother tongues – allowing the University to increase its rate of staff in each of the “designated groups.”

In spite of these new hires, problems continue to arise. The Senate Subcommittee on Race and Ethnic Relations has yet to get off the ground, or even find a chair. “McGill suffers from benign neglect,” Cullen said.

Aviva Levy is a U4 Canadian Studies and Sociology student. She can be reached at