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Human Rights Complaint concerning the Canada Research Chairs Program

As posted to PAR-L on January 21st, 2005

Gender-Based Analysis of the Fifth-year Evaluation of the Canada Research Chairs Program, by Dr. Wendy Robbins

Dear Parleuses,

The fifth-year review of the billion-dollar Canada Research Chairs Program, produced by R.A. Malatest and Associates, is now available, though you have to go digging for it.

Here is my personal summary of the Report as regards women and other equity groups. In my judgement, the Report deserves to be strongly criticized by all equity-seeking groups for its failure to adequately address equity issues, including gender.

The eight women professors (including your two PAR-L co-moderators, myself and Michèle Ollivier) who filed a human rights complaint against Industry Canada over the CRC Program will shortly produce a press release, en français et en anglais, which will appear on PAR-L for wide distribution. And we will also shortly be asking for your assistance in trying to get action on our complaint from the glacially slow Canadian Human Rights Commission, for “justice delayed is justice denied.”

The Report does, however, acknowledge problems with the allocation by discipline (close to half of the Chairs are allocated to science and engineering), which may ultimately benefit those of us working in social sciences and humanities, although it proposes no particular solution.

Copies of the Report can be obtained from:

Rafika Amira
Agente principale d'évaluation et de rendement /
Senior Evaluation and Performance Officer
Rendement organisationnel, évaluation et vérification/
Corporate Performance, Evaluation and Audit
Tel.: (613) 944-6232

On the subject of equity/gender, in a nutshell, here is what is in “Fifth-Year Evaluation of the Canada Research Chairs Program: Final Evaluation Report,” December 2, 2004.

No other equity group besides women is mentioned. Period.

None of the data that Malatest collected for this report is disaggregated for any equity group. Thus we do not know what percentage of respondents to Malatest’s surveys (606 Chairholders, 39 nominees not funded, and 1.119 non-CRC researchers), or what percentage of its interviewees (20 key stakeholders, 28 university representatives, and 5 researchers who declined Chairs), or what percentage of its case studies (with 9 Chairholders) are women or members of any other equity group. This evaluation is as flawed as the CRC Program. These researchers themselves just don’t get it.

Gender is a component of the fifth-year review as a consequence of its being recognized as an issue in the third-year evaluation and the subject of a prior study, by Nicole Bégin Heick,,which is seriously flawed. There is no mention of the Human Rights Complaint or the considerable media attention that lack of attention to equity issues has generated. Did Malatest not do a literature review?

Bégin-Heick’s (May 2003) gender-based analysis of the Program, her “Assessment” which is on the CRC web site, is cited, but there is no discussion, let alone any critique, of her concept of the “notional pool” and corresponding (status quo) “targets.” Her study is flawed in several ways, not least by its being limited to researchers in Canada only, when there is an international pool of women researchers to tap. The CRC has as a prime goal to attract international and expatriate researchers to Canadian universities, research centres, and hospitals.

There is no discussion or critique of the concept of “excellence.” Section 3.6, “Excellence of Researchers” is an unthinking “merit-by-numbers” exercise. Just count publications, conferences, and research dollars. The Chairholders, by this one measure, seem impressive, but think of the context in which they work: Chairholders report teaching reductions of between 70% and 225% (p. 33).

Gender is discussed in Section 5.1, where it falls under “Design Issues,” rather than under the headings that are most closely linked to “excellence” and the main goals of the CRC Program, such as “Attraction and Retention of Top Researchers” or “Enhancement of Universities’ Roles as Centres of Research Excellence / Creation and Application of New Knowledge.”

Section 5.1 carries the heading “Effort to Distribute Chairs Equitably between Men and Women.” “Effort,” excuse me? What happened to outcomes? In this section, the report switches to “anticipated” or “expected” figures instead of factual data, even though it is acknowledged that in 2003 and 2004 only “one-third of universities expecting to show a 200% increase or more in the number of female Chairs met their target”(p. 38). As we say in the vernacular, “how crazy is that?” Would they evaluate Chairholders’ “excellence” based on “expected” grants or publications?

The rationale is that information provided by universities’ annual reports apparently “does not specify the expected number of female Chairs by discipline, and as a result, comparison against the targets specified in the gender-based analysis is rendered impossible.” Believe it or not, they leave it at that. No inquiries. No phone calls. Not even recommendations for doing things differently in the future.

Malatest seems satisfied that “The percentage of Chairs awarded to women has shown a steady increase” (ignoring the fact that the belatedly introduced targets are status quo targets, within Canada. The targets proposed by Bégin-Heick are too low when measured against the international comparator group of OECD countries. Canada ranks 12th for percentage of women faculty, as we know thanks to the CAUT Almanac 2004. And the targets are fantasy anyway (in CIHR disciplines a 200% increase is needed in short order), and, not surprisingly, are not being met at the majority of institutions.

At the end, there is only one recommendation about gender (number 7 in a list of 8), and it is toothless: “increase the monitoring of the gender distribution among Chair awards.”

The lack of a bona fide gender and equity analysis leads to over-generalized conclusions. “Based on the evaluation results, we can conclude that the Canada Research Chairs program has helped to create a research environment that is conducive to the long-term retention and attraction of top researchers.” . . . the program is on the right track”. . . (p. 44).

As a Women’s Studies professor, I give this Report failing grades, ambitious and original though, in some respects, it is.

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