Calls to Action
Human Rights Complaint concerning the Canada Research Chairs Program
This story was published originally by the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday,
Feb. 8, 2003, p. A5, and appears here with the permission of Jeff
Research grant program cheats women: professor
Human rights complaint being prepared
By Jeff Pappone, The Ottawa Citizen
A $900-million government program meant to speed the development of
university researchers discriminates against women and helps continue
the long-standing history of sexism in academia, according to a New
Brunswick professor preparing a human rights complaint against the
Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.
Wendy Robbins claims the CRC creates unreasonable barriers to
women faculty members and appoints a disproportionate number of men
because the program's structure gives male professors an unfair
"The argument the CRC gives is that the program is not about equity, it's
about excellence. They act like you can't find excellent women - it's
hugely flawed, deeply insulting and we just had to blow the whistle on it,"
said the professor of English.
"When it was announced with none of the basic hiring mechanisms that
we've come to expect, it seemed like it would be a huge step backward --
anybody who's working in the trenches with their feet on the ground on
campuses could have predicted it."
Ms. Robbins and eight other women researchers from universities
across the country plan to ask the Canadian Human Rights Commission
to set up an inquiry into the chairs program's structure. If the commission
refuses to act on the request, the group will file an official complaint under
the Canadian Human Rights Act against Industry Canada, the
government department responsible for the CRC program. She was in
Ottawa yesterday to consult with her lawyer and expects the group to
approach the commission with their initial request next week.
Announced by the federal Liberals in the 2000 budget, the program has
targeted the establishment of 2,000 research chairs in universities
across Canada by 2005 to encourage research excellence.
At the root of the equity problem is the division of the chairs along
funding lines for the three granting agencies - Canadian Institutes of
Health Research (CIHR), Natural Sciences and Engineering Research
Council (NSERC), and Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council (SSHRC), she said.
This puts women at a disadvantage because the majority of female
professors teach in the social sciences and humanities, which has
received only 22 per cent of the total chairs. Science and engineering
researchers have garnered 46 per cent of the funding, while health
researchers received 32 per cent.
Women's access to the positions is further impeded by the CRC's refusal
to enforce the regulations, which has allowed universities to bend the
rules in favour of male full professors, Ms. Robbins said. CRC research
grants are divided into two categories: Tier 1 targets experienced
researchers with seven-year appointments and a $1.4 million research
award; Tier 2 offers five-year, $500,000 chairs for emerging researchers.
"What's been happening is that universities have been appointing full
professors to Tier 2 chairs so they're using the same pool of full
professors for both levels and male professors who aren't appointed for
Tier 1 chairs are taking Tier 2 spots that shouldn't be available to them,"
"I don't understand why the CRC didn't turn every one of those
applications down -- if there's a weigh limit in a sporting event, somebody
enforces the criteria."
Since the five-year CRC program began, only 112 of the 744
appointments or 15.1 per cent have gone to women researchers who
make up about 26 per cent of all university professors. The distribution of
women appointees is. equally divided among the three research areas.
Rene Durocher, CRC executive director, said he has taken steps to
increase the number of women appointees, pushing universities to revise
their strategy for recruiting women for future chairs.
"I'm very, very sensitive to this and we are working hard to improve the
situation and reach a fair balance between men and women in the
program -- it's one of the most difficult questions we face and we do
recognize very frankly and openly that this is a problem," he said. "Some
people are saying that the big difference between men and women
generally is that men will fight more to obtain something - women want to
be recognized for their merit and are less likely to fight than men."
The pressure on universities has paid off with the percentage of women
in the next round of appointments hitting about 18 per cent, he said
adding that because there are fewer women in the areas of health care,
science, and engineering, it is difficult to get a fair number of women
appointed to those chairs.
"You have to look at the pool of women in each sector and it's not the
same -- in engineering there are less women so how can we balance the
university that has a medical school and engineering with one that
doesn't have one?" he explained. "We are not receiving enough women
nominees, but once the names are here their rate of success is the same
as men, so there's no discrimination here."