January 19, 2007
By Silas Polkinghorne
An agreement has been ratified between the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program and eight professors who filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commissions in 2003 charging the program discriminated against women and minority groups.
The November agreement requires that universities set targets for CRC appointments of women, aboriginal people, visible minorities, and people with disabilities. As well, the federal government’s policies on non-discrimination and equity will become an important part of the chairs nomination process.
U of S professor emerita Louise Forsyth, one of the people who launched the complaint, said she is pleased the agreement makes an implicit statement the CRC program was inequitable in the past. But in an interview from Calgary, Forsyth pointed out that most of the chairs have already been filled – fewer than 400 of the 2,000 research positions remain open.
“The longer all of this went on … we were losing,” she said, “because the money was being spent and all of the positions were being named.”
Forsyth, a former dean of Graduate Studies and Research at the U of S, said she is hopeful the hiring practices will improve, “but it’s late in the game.”
In 2001, the program’s first full year, women received 14 per cent of CRCs awarded. In the last round of nominations, more than 30 per cent of chairs went to women. Women, who make up 30 per cent of Canada’s university faculty, now hold about 22 per cent of chairs.
U of S Vice-President Research Steven Franklin said only a small portion of the chairs come open every year. “There aren’t that many chairs that are available to be filled in future with different people. So it’s going to take some time,” he said.
At the U of S, however, 30 per cent of CRCs are women – approximately equal to the percentage of female faculty members. “We’re one of the universities that relatively quickly has developed an understanding of how this program should work for us,” Franklin said.
He added that in the last few years, U of S search committees were directed to find a good pool of female applicants.
“I think you have to sensitize those that are searching, those that are involved in finding potential applicants, to the desirability of this particular characteristic. You have to make sure the committees who are responsible for these people being nominated are aware that just bringing forward a certain kind of person in a certain area is just not adequate.”
Franklin said promoting diversity is important to better reflect the general population and the student body. It creates role models for a variety of people and ensures a diversity of perspectives will be represented in research and scholarship.
Forsyth emphasizes that equity is not just about women’s representation, but also about providing opportunities for people with disabilities, aboriginal people, and visible minorities.
“The bigger pool you draw from, the more likely you are to get a bigger pool of talent,” Forsyth said. She hopes to see reporting on how many members of those groups are represented in the CRC program.
Forsyth also said there should be more investment in the social sciences and humanities, the areas, which have the greatest number of female faculty members in Canada. Twenty per cent of CRC funding goes to social sciences and humanities, and the rest to natural sciences and engineering and to health sciences.