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Examining the state of equity and diversity at McGill

Problems surrounding the University’s lack of policy, complaint mechanisms

The following is the first part of a series examining equity at the university, specifically focused on faculty, staff, and policy at the university level.

Currently, 11 out of 25 senior administrators at McGill are women, and one out of these 25 is a person of colour. Out of 12 faculty and library deans, four are women and none is a person of colour. The issue of equity and diversity at McGill is one that is constantly raised and examined by students and members of the administration.

At October’s Senate meeting, Principal Heather Munroe-Blum presented an update to the administration’s response to the Principal’s Taskforce on Diversity, Excellence and Community Engagement.

The taskforce was launched in 2009 under the purview of Munroe-Blum with the goal of creating “a forum for new ideas, initiatives, and mechanisms to better achieve excellence in pursuing our academic mission.”

According to the final report released in 2011, there was a focus on the “strong links between excellence, diversity, and community engagement at McGill.” Diversity at the university level became one of most salient aspects the task force sought to address, and as such, the first recommendation of the report was to “demonstrate a firm commitment to the recruitment, retention, and professional development of diverse and excellent academic staff, administrative and support staff, and students…”

The report also led to the creation of the Associate Provost (Policies, Procedures & Equity), an expansion of the former position that did not specifically deal with equity. The position has only been held by Lydia White, who told The Daily that previously, the Associate Provost (Policies and Procedures) had some of the same responsibilities as the new position, but that it was more behind the scenes.

“It’s not that McGill did not have a commitment to equity – it did – but I think that it was certainly the case that people didn’t know where to bring equity issues. So it was an attempt to make it more transparent, where to go, and who is going to be overseeing equity issues,” said White.

One of the policies under White’s purview is the Employment Equity Policy. The latest report on employment equity shows that in 2011, 104 (18 per cent) of tenure-track professors identified as female, whereas 473 identified as male. Going down the academic positions, 32.5 per cent of tenure-track associate professors and 40.3 per cent of assistant professors identified as female.

In contrast, other staff groups have a stark overrepresentation of self-identified female workers: 90.1 per cent of clerical workers, 88.9 per cent of non-tenure track assistant librarians, and 71.7 per cent of library assistants identified themselves as female.

The report also shows that in 2011, 14.2 per cent of staff self-identified as a visible minority and 23.7 per cent as an ethnic minority. 1.5 per cent, or 77 people have a disability, and 0.3 per cent, or 17 staff members are Aboriginal.

White told The Daily that these statistics show how many people McGill employs from “designated groups.”

“The federal government has a smaller number of designated groups, the provincial government has one more and McGill has yet one more. So we feel we have a broader definition of diversity and consequently of equity,” said White.

White also explained that getting accurate data on membership to these groups is difficult. “It’s fairly straightforward to get data on males versus females, but for the other groups we rely on self-reporting, and a lot of people, often for good reasons, don’t want to self report and then what happens is…they count non-reports as being able-bodied white males.”

According to White, McGill is currently working on developing a new survey to address the shortcomings of the current model of self-identification. “McGill’s current survey that employees fill out is really quite inadequate,” she explained. “For example, it doesn’t allow you to say that you belong to more than one category. So you couldn’t be an Aboriginal person and disabled, you have to choose one and that doesn’t make sense.”

The current survey does not have a question regarding sexual orientation.

The Joint Board Senate Committee on Equity – tasked with reviewing recruitment and status of under-represented groups at McGill – includes subcommittees on women, persons with disabilities, First Peoples, race and ethnic relations, and queer people.

White explained that when she started, “it wasn’t sort of clear to the committee itself exactly what they were supposed to be doing. And some of these subcommittees were basically dysfunctional – they didn’t have chair or they didn’t have members. I think that in the last couple of years we’ve really got that together.”

In a 2010 report, the Equity Subcommittee on Race and Ethnic Relations raised some specific concerns and issued recommendations to the University, pointing out in particular an “overwhelming lack of equitable racial and ethnic diversity in all aspects of McGill University.”

Among the report’s recommendations is the creation of a Dean of Diversity to “investigate, make demands, and to expect results,” pointing to similar positions at Harvard University and the University of Virginia. The report also called for the creation of an Academic Personnel Diversity position, a Human Resources Diversity position, and a Faculty/Employee of Colour Health Advocate.

According to the report, McGill shows “an extreme lack of diversity of faculty; lack of awareness [and] commitment to diversity as more than catch phrase; [and a] lack of understanding opportunities and benefits of diversity.”

McGill shows “an extreme lack of diversity of faculty; lack of awareness [and] commitment to diversity as more than catch phrase; [and a] lack of understanding opportunities and benefits of diversity.”

To address these issues, the report recommends reformed tenure and promotion procedures to “reflect the needs of the current and desired people of colour faculty and to allow for the fact that the experiences of professors of colour are not the same as those of white professors.”

The Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) Office, another resource for equity at McGill, aims to “provide information, education, and training to all areas of the University in order to cultivate a respectful, diverse, and supportive campus.”

In an email to The Daily, SEDE manager Veronica Amberg explained that McGill could be more welcoming of disadvantaged groups by “weaving diversity initiatives throughout the University, including implementing Universal Design in curriculum and sharing other best practices of inclusive classrooms pedagogies, creating new academic programs such as an Indigenous Studies Program, reinforcing mentorship programs, specialized services and outreach and consultations with marginalized groups, [and] more intra groups opportunities for dialogues.”

The University does not currently have an overarching equity policy. Within the University, some student organizations – like SSMU and the Management Undergraduate Society – have such policies, and the Arts Undergraduate Society is in the process of developing one.

Last year, Student Senator Emil Briones brought forward a question to Senate regarding an overarching Equity Policy for McGill.

According to the Senate meeting minutes, former SSMU VP University Affairs and Student Senator Emily Yee Clare claimed that incidents of racism were an experienced reality at McGill and that there was a lack of dialogue about racism on campus. Clare also asked why McGill was the only high-ranking university in Canada without an Aboriginal Studies Program and without any Indigenous tenure-track faculty members.

White told The Daily that a university-wide equity policy is “certainly possible,” but that she is “not convinced what it would achieve because we’ve already got a commitment to equity in a number of different places in various policies.”

Instead, White explained that there have been suggestions for an overarching equity statement as part of McGill’s mission statement that can be referred to when dealing with other policies, rather than an equity policy parallel to that of SSMU.

“I think this solution, at least in the short term, is much more realistic. It’s something we can do fairly quickly,” she said.

Currently, there are no mechanisms specifically dedicated to equity grievances. But according to White, “there are mechanisms for general complaints and grievances, and then there are related policies, like the policy on harassment, sexual harassment, and discrimination prohibited by law.”

White told The Daily that future initiatives regarding equity include the creation of an equity award and encouraging faculty from designated groups to apply for promotions.

“The challenge is still to get the numbers up but McGill does not have a…positive discrimination policy,” said White. “I find this is one of the most frustrating things, that it takes so long, that even if you make corrections in the lower ranks it takes such a long time before that correction appears in the higher ranks.”

“I suppose one of the other challenges is awareness, to make people more aware,” she added. “You can do it by the University setting the example in various ways and I think that is already happening.”