Mailing List
Site tools

Calls to Action

Human Rights Complaint concerning the Canada Research Chairs Program

As posted to PAR-L on January 24th, 2005

Here is my commentary linking Summers' remarks at Harvard and the CRC's recent evaluation report, which fails to deal adequately with equity issues. It is in the online edition of Sunday's Globe and Mail.

Globe and Mail online

Wendy Robbins

The Wrong Kind of Harvard North, by Dr. Wendy Robbins
Globe and Mail Update, January 23rd, 2005

The Canadian government, with its billion-dollar Canada Research Chairs program, is bent on creating an elite research community, a "Harvard North." This goal, no doubt, seems much diminished, given last week's foot-in-mouth remarks by Harvard's president about women's "innate" inability for math and science. But sexism in the academy is no isolated incident.

Harvard president Lawrence Summers has since tried to apologize. And he did acknowledge that discrimination also plays a role in keeping academic women down. His admission is more than the authors of the fifth-year evaluation of the Canada Research Chairs program could muster.

The recently released Final Evaluation Report, produced by R..A. Malatest & Associates, gives short shrift to women and, breaking with what has become standard practice in universities, fails to include data on other equity groups, including aboriginal people, disabled people, and racialized minorities.

The Malatest analysis does not disaggregate its research data (from surveys and interviews) by gender or other equity group. Thus, it suffers from the same structural flaws and methodological myopia as the CRC program itself. These are serious issues that affect the calibre and the content of research and teaching across Canada.

Established in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program is seen as a key component in the federal government's strategy to become a world leader in the knowledge-based economy. The program's goal is to create 2,000 new research positions in order to reverse an alleged brain drain of excellent researchers from Canada, and to attract top researchers internationally.

Systemic discrimination cuts down the pool of potential applicants and therefore lowers the quality and diversity of university teaching and research. In the name of excellence, excellence suffers.

Close to 1,400 chairs have been awarded to date. So far, 15 per cent of the senior, most prestigious Tier-1 chairs have gone to women, and 25 per cent of Tier-2 chairs. No data exist for other equity groups.

In 2003, a group of eight women professors laid a human-rights complaint against Industry Canada, the main source of funding for the CRC program, documenting the underappointment of women and calling for the collection of data for other equity groups. An attempt at mediation failed, and the complaint is still in the queue at the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It's a classic case of "justice delayed is justice denied."

The Final Evaluation Report contains only one recommendation about gender, and it appears seventh on a list of eight. It recommends: "Increase the monitoring of the gender distribution among chair awards." This is worse than toothless.

Canada ranks a lowly 12th among the countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in terms of our proportion of women faculty. Given that the usual requirements to hire Canadians first do not apply in the Canada Research Chairs program, tapping into the international academic pool, where women are better represented than in Canada, could have substantially improved the situation here.

Moreover, close to half of the chairs are allocated to research in science and engineering, and more than a third to health, with only 20 per cent going to social sciences and humanities - yet this is where the majority of students and professors are concentrated.

The fifth-year evaluation provides evidence of dissatisfaction with the disproportionate emphasis on research in science, engineering, and health, to the neglect of culture, but again it proposes no clear solutions.

The taxpayers of Canada and the academic community must challenge the government's, and the CRC Secretariat's, commitment to a full spectrum of research - and to fairness, which is not the antithesis of excellence, but its foundation.

The complainants are: Wendy Robbins, University of New Brunswick; Susan Prentice, University of Manitoba; Michèle Ollivier, University of Ottawa; Shree Mulay, McGill University; Audrey Kobayashi, Queen's University; Glenis Joyce, University of Saskatchewan; Louise Forsyth, University of Saskatchewan (emerita); Marjorie Griffin Cohen, Simon Fraser University.

back  top