2003, Vol. 16, No. 2, 46‑54
DIVERSITY THROUGH DISCRIMINATION
0n 13 July
1999, members of a
Canadian scholarly society
called Brain, Behaviour and Cognitive Sciences received an e‑mail message advertising an
opening for a faculty position in developmental psychology at Wilfrid
Laurier University (WLU) in Waterloo, Ontario. The ad included the following words: "The
department is attempting to address a gender imbalance in its
department, and therefore will hire a woman for this position, as
allowed by the Special Program of the Ontario Human Rights
Commission." Less than a month later, and
after the woman‑only ad had generated some controversy in the media,'
Professor Angelo Santi, chair of the psychology department, appeared on
a radio talk show (station CHML) in nearby Hamilton, Ontario to explain
his department's and university's hiring procedure. Professor Sand was
asked directly by tile show's host, Roy Green, "If a man were the best
qualified for the position, you wouldn't hire him, is that right"
Professor Santi replied, "Yes, not for this position."
Wilfrid Laurier University's open admission of blatant discrimination
men illustrates many of the
themes that are present in the diversity debates in Canada. I will discuss this story in detail, and,
as much as possible, quote the words used by faculty and administrators
at Wilfrid Laurier University to demonstrate my points.
Before continuing tile story of Wilfrid Laurier University's hiring discrimination, it is
necessary to provide some legal context for their actions. In Canada, like elsewhere, human rights codes have
been created as anti‑discrimination laws, and human rights commissions
have become the official government bodies that are responsible for
administering and enforcing these codes. The Ontario Human Rights Code (Code)2
covers Wilfrid Laurier University. The Code is clear in its purpose: In its preamble the Code states, "[I] it is public policy in Ontario to recognize the dignity and worth of every
person and to provide for equal rights and opportunities without
For our purposes, the most
relevant section of the Code that I believe was violated is Part 1,
section 5 (1) , which states, "Every person has a right to equal treatment
with respect to employment without discrimination because of race,
ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed,
sex (emphasis added), sexual orientation, age, record of
offences, marital status, family status or handicap." Thus it would appear that discrimination on
the basis of sex is illegal. Unfortunately, a later section allows
exception to section 5 (1) in some circumstances, the key one involving
special programs. Part 2, Section 14 (1) states, "A right under Part 1
is not infringed by the implementation of a special program designed to
relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist disadvantaged
persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve equal opportunity or
that is likely to contribute to the elimination of the
infringement of rights under Part 1".
One special program that
is pertinent to this discussion is the Federal Contractors Program
(FCP) which was initiated by a Cabinet Decision in 1986. The FCP,
consistent with other employment equity legislation, aims to increase
the representativeness of four so‑called underrepresented groups,
specifically, women, visible minorities, aboriginal peoples, and
persons with disabilities. Universities fall under the jurisdiction of
the FCP, and failure to commit to a plan of action that ultimately
results in increased representations of the four specified groups in
the workforce may result in the loss of the right of the university and
its faculty to bid on federal contracts, including research grants.
Universities take the FCP seriously.4
is a potential conflict between providing rights to individuals that
protect them from discrimination and compelling universities (and
employers generally) to increase the representation of some
groups. One can read, in the various relevant statutes and regulations,
words and sentences that imply that measures to increase representation
do not mean establishing quotas, trashing the merit principle, or
harming the rights of others, but instead are aimed at removing
discriminatory practices and barriers, and increasing the opportunity
of all people and groups to compete on an equal footing. That's theory.
In practice, special programs to increase representativeness have
actually increased discrimination against some groups while unfairly
advantaging others. In some cases, increasing the representativeness of
some groups has become an end in itself, independent of the criteria
specified in section 14(1) of the Code, which
are concerned with increasing equal opportunity. I believe this
has happened at WLU, and I now return to a discussion of the case.
Arguments to Defend Sex
Discrimination against Men at WLU
14(1) of the Code allows special programs to target women with
the purpose "to relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or to assist
disadvantaged persons or groups to achieve or attempt to achieve
equal opportunity." Therefore, I had expected that WLU and its
psychology department would justify its special program on the grounds
that women had suffered hardship and economic disadvantages, and thus
required a special program to remedy the situation.
was not the approach taken, probably because it was not
defensible even on the face of it. For example, the job ad lists the
requirements for the faculty position as follows: "Applicants
should hive a Ph.D., evidence of commitment to, and superior
ability in, teaching, as well as an active program of research." Thus,
it is very clear that the group to be advantaged is already highly
educated and skilled. Is there any evidence whatsoever to show that
this group of potential applicants faces hardship or economic
disadvantage or requires assistance, in the form of sex‑based
hiring preferences, to achieve equal opportunity? WLU has not provided
a positive answer to any part of this question.
He answered as follows: "In
response to your questions, I would like to note that there are 4
female faculty in our Department and 18 male faculty members. The
University is a federal contractor for purposes of the Federal
Employment Equity Act. This act requires that we have an
Employment Equity Plan. A draft of Laurier's Employment Equity Plan
that was published in December 1998 noted that Psychology had a
serious under‑representation by gender over the previous 5 years
(14.3‑18 percent women). The department has had "recommendations" from
faculty members within the department, from administrators, and from an
external review committee consisting of psychologists from other
institutions (including U of T) to do something about the
under‑representation of women. We decided to address this issue openly
rather than covertly in our search process."
Several lines of evidence
suggested that the psychology department was under pressure to
increase the number of women on its faculty, either because of fears
that. the university would suffer negatively under the FCP, would be
vulnerable to a human rights complaint, or because of more general
pressures to hire women, merely because the university felt it should
have more women. Consider the following justifications.
person I contacted was Professor Angelo Santi, the chair of the
department. I emailed him in late July, 1999 and asked him directly:
"What is the legal basis on which you believe you can advertise a job
that excludes men from applying? Did the Ontario Human Rights
Commission approve of this special program and/or ad in advance?"
Professor Santi was kind enough to engage in correspondence with me.
continued, "The Department initiated this program with the firm
belief that it could address the gender imbalance in the
department without compromising our policy of hiring first‑rate
researchers and teachers. The Employment Equity Officer at Laurier
checked with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and assured us that we
were following all applicable requirements for a special program.
Laurier also took extensive legal advice before approving a
special program in Psychology under article 14 of the Human Rights
Code, and the advice the university was given was that the situation in
the Psychology Department, if uncorrected, could leave the institution
liable to a challenge of
systemic discrimination under section 5 of the Human Rights Code."
With regard to Santi's comment
that the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) approved the
department's special program to advertise a woman only position,
Stewart Page, a colleague at the University of Windsor, wrote to the OHRC specifically about this.
Ms. Pearl Eliadis of the OHRC was adamant in her
response: "the Commission does not
pre‑approve special programs. We do provide technical information and
assistance (as I am doing in this
Email) but not approvals (August 4, 1999)."
Note that nowhere in Professor
Santi's answer did he comment that WLU’s special program is designed to
relieve hardship or economic disadvantage or achieve equal opportunity
for the female applicants for a faculty position in psychology ─ the
essential criteria outlined in section 14(1). Additionally, Santi did
not claim that the department had been discriminating against women in
the past. I wrote to Professor Santi again, saying, "My understanding
is that your department has not discriminated against women in the
past; indeed, has interviewed women for faculty positions and has
offered positions to women." He did not deny my assertions.
Wente, a columnist for the Globe and Mail ─ one of Canada's national newspapers ‑ after talking
to Professor Santi, came to conclusions similar to mine. She
wrote, "But it became obvious that the gender imbalance in the
department has absolutely nothing to do with discrimination. In fact,
the university has turned flipflops to recruit female professors . . .
. Laurier's real problem is that good female candidates are scarce, and
they have their pick of jobs. For several legitimate reasons, Laurier
isn't at the top of their list."
A second person I contacted (this time by phone) to learn about the
rationale behind WLU's job ad was Ms. Fr an Manson, the Employment
Equity Officer at WLU. I asked her if I could have a copy of the
special program document to see the
rationale and the evidence for myself. Initially, she said, "Sure, I
don't see why not, but I'll check with the Vice‑President." I asked if
the Vice President she was referring to was Rowland Smith. She
said it was. Several days later I received an e‑mail response from Ms.
Manson which stated, "Concerning your request to receive a copy of
our Special Program, I have made some inquires and have been informed
that this is not a public document."
Although Rowland Smith, the provost and academic vice‑president,
engage in an e‑mail correspondence with me, he did respond publicly in
the Globe and Mail6 to
the scathing article by Margaret Wente referred to earlier. Smith, in
his response, agreed that there had been no intentional
discrimination at WLU. He said, "No one has claimed that the
situation in the Laurier psychology department has been caused by
intentional discrimination." Instead, Smith offered a novel and
different justification for reserving the faculty position for women.
He wrote, "Why is the need for women an educational need. The context
in which humans learn is important to the learning process, and a
university faculty that reflects the diversity of the population is an important
part of that context. Of course women can learn from men and vice
versa; of course men can mentor women and price versa; but there is
evidence that many people of both genders respond more readily to
teachers and mentors of the same gender."
It is important to note that Smith, in his article, changed the
of the group that is to benefit from WLU's special program from the
might apply for a faculty position to the female students who might
benefit from same‑sex teachers. Regardless o£ what evidence might
exist on the alleged benefits of learning from a teacher of the
same sex (and Smith provided none, then or subsequently), the purported
educational benefits for the students are not covered by section
14 of the Code. Smith has imagined it a
human right to
be taught by a university professor of the same sex! Clearly, as Murray
Miles has noted, the role model argument advanced by Smith is weak. You
have to be a woman to model the
role of a mother or sister. But a professor's role is different.
Professors are effective to the extent that they demonstrate teaching
skills, innovative thinking, open‑mindedness, research expertise, and
so on. Professors of either sex can be successful models of these
attributes. Indeed, WLU, like most universities, has seen its female
student enrollment increase to over 50 percent in recent years, even as
the male faculty remained at well over 50 percent. So the presence of
male faculty clearly has not been a deterrent to female enrollment.
Did WLU or its Psychology
Department Discriminate against Women?
about whether the psychology department had engaged in prior
discrimination against women was provided in an article published
in the school newspaper about the woman‑only ad by Barry Ries.8
For example, psychology professor Linda Parker said the situation in
the psychology department "is not the result of discrimination . .
. Having sat on the hiring committees for the past seven tenure‑stream
hires, I would defend every one of them . . Four of those
positions went to men and three to women, and each hire was based on
excellence, pure and simple." According to Reis, "From 1993 to 1997,
the Department hired 10 limited‑term and tenure‑track faculty members.
Seven were males and three were women, `about the same ratio as the
applications received,' Santi notes." Santi goes on to say, "we have
been turned down by females we've offered positions to, but not males,
in the last 10 years."
Data provided to me by the
university confirm the conclusion that there was no discrimination
against women at WLU. For the academic year s 1992‑93 to 1997‑1998 and
1999‑2000, WLU hired 197 faculty members and 44.7 percent of them were
women. In that same period, women represented only 25.6 percent of
the applicant pool and 34.4 percent of those interviewed. Thus, women
were hired in greater percentages throughout the 1990s than they were represented in
either the applicant
or interview pool. A similar picture emerges if we examine only the new
faculty positions in social sciences, the category to which the
psychology department is assigned. Here, for the same academic years as
before, sixty people were hired as faculty, 46.7 percent of them women.
During the same period, women comprised 29.2 percent of the applicant
pool and 41.2 percent of those interviewed. Thus, whether we examine
the recent hiring record of the psychology department, faculty of
social science, or the university as a whole, we find that relative to
the pool of actual applicants, there is no evidence that women have
been treated in a discriminatory manner. To the contrary, women
were more likely to have been hired than men. Therefore women cannot be
considered a group requiring relief from hardship or economic
disadvantage, or assistance in achieving equal opportunity, which are
the criteria of section 14 of the
of WLU's hiring pattern is not unique. For example, Grant Browns has
demonstrated empirically that women are much more likely than men to be
hired relative to their numbers in the applicant pool for faculty positions. Brown found this to be
the case in universities throughout Canada, including: Victoria, Simon Fraser, British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Windsor, Western, Ryerson, Queen's, and Concordia.
Likewise, Andrew Irvine," in his review of Statistics Canada data,
found that, despite common misconceptions, claims of significant,
sustained, widespread discrimination in hiring against women in
Canadian universities remain unsupported by the available
In short, the
available evidence suggests that the department of psychology did not
discriminate openly against male applicants in order to redress
previous human rights violations against female job applicants or
faculty , but because they wanted more women in the department to meet
an arbitrary goal of diversity.
I agree with Professor
Parker's analysis that "special programs for women, that have been in
place for a number of years . . . that guarantee tenure stream
appointments for women, are skimming off the cream of the female PhD
pool. These women, with strong research interests, may not be
interested in working at a smaller university without a PhD program and
the attendant lab facilities, although Laurier has been successful in
hiring some excellent women in Psychology lately."
denial of discrimination and, in my view, correct understanding of the
reason for Laurier's lack of success in hiring as many women as they
would like, Parker makes a startling admission in the Reis article:
"It's a hard decision to come to but we just got to the point where we
decided hiring solely on the basis of excellence wasn't working
anymore." In fact, this observation was put into action. Santi further
commented, "Members directed the Chair to look into doing something,
such as an ad specifically directed to women." According to Reis, the
department voted to search only for women for three years or until the
department consisted of 35 percent female faculty members.
Enablers of WLU's Sex‑Based
When I first learned
of WLU's woman‑only ad for the psychology position, I contacted the
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), an
organization of university faculty associations across Canada. CAUT publishes a monthly Bulletin that advertises university faculty positions.
The Bulletin is
the major outlet for job aspirants to
check for new faculty listings. In the belief that CAUT already had in
hand, or would shortly have, a request from WLU to print their
woman‑only ad, I asked them if they would do so.
The CAUT Bulletin's stated
advertising .policy says, "The
publisher will not accept advertisements of academic positions
restricting applications on grounds of race, national origin, religion,
colour, sex (emphasis
added), age, marital status, family
status, ethnicity, disability, sexual preference, social origin, or
political beliefs or affiliation. CAUT expects that all positions
advertised in the Bulletin are
open to both men and women.
Advertisements using restrictive language will not be accepted except
when the language has
been Mandated (emphasis added) by Human Rights
legislation." The executive director of CAUT, Jim Turk, answered me
that the CAUT would follow its published job advertising policy.
own contract"11 with its unionized faculty, in its article11
employment equity (article
22), includes the following goal: "The Parties agree that it is
desirable for the University's employee complement to change over time
to reflect the evolving composition of Canadian society, including
appropriate representation of the designated groups" (article 22.2.3).
The translation of this goal into action occurs through the
authority given to deans to direct a department's hiring process. For
example, "where there are no applicants from any of the designated
groups for a position . . . or where the Department Appointment .
. . Committee. . . recommends a short‑list for interview which does not
include a candidate from one of the designated groups, the Dean . . .
shall review the process and the recommendation of the Department
Appointment . . . Committee and may, in light of the Employment Equity
Plan, decide to continue with the existing short‑list . . or to take
other measures needed to widen the applicant pool” (article 22.2.3d).
on the particular dean, there could be considerable institutional
pressure on a department to hire a woman.
What could be
clearer; the ad would certainly be rejected for publication, or so I
thought. But one month before WLU's woman ‑ only ad appeared in the CAUT Bulletin, CAUT
advertising policy by substituting the words "1S consistent
with" for the earlier phrase "has been mandated" by Human Rights
legislation, in the statement shown above. Thus apparently to
accommodate WLU, in the fall o£ 1999 CAUT weakened
its own criteria for judging
discrimination. Discrimination on the grounds of sex is
permissible to Canada's largest professorial organization, so
long as the discrimination is against men.
There are many implications of giving hiring preferences to groups
employment equity legislation, but let me highlight only a few that are
most salient in the Wilfrid Laurier example.
First, hiring preferences reflect
a view of the university as a parliament rather than an intellectual
meritocracy. From this perspective, the merit principle of choosing the
best person for the job is weakened, while at the same time the
epistemological purpose of the university gives way to social
Second, diversity is seen as necessary and, perhaps, sufficient for
Thus an individual's ideas or merit are tied to and confused with
biological background. This used to be called sexism and racism.
Third, there is an inability on the part of hiring‑preference
proponents to perceive,
accept, or deal with the injustice caused to a man who was excluded as
a candidate for a job simply on the basis of his sex. Regrettably, the
irony is completely lost on such proponents. What matters, apparently,
is which group won a benefit rather than which individual lost an
In sum, the WLU case illustrates that employment equity at the
university level has little
to do with human rights in the sense of repairing the damage of past or
current discriminatory practices. Employment equity is all about
increasing the representativeness of some groups at the expense of
others, simply as a goal in itself. Sadly, the WLU events are not
atypical of these trends in Canadian higher education (see Fekete and
the website of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship).12
In response to the WLU's
discriminatory job ad, I filed a complaint of sex discrimination
against the university with the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
After several months, the Commission accepted the argument by the
university's lawyers that I did not have legal standing to make the
complaint, and therefore dismissed it. The Commission also declined to
investigate the complaint on its own, as is allowed under the Code. As of this time, there has not
decision by the courts regarding the legality of the special programs
used by Canadian universities to discriminate against men.
complaint helped generate numerous critical commentary in the media
across the country. For example, The Record, the
hometown newspaper of WLU, commented in an editorial (11 May
2000) on the
discriminatory, hiring policy by noting, "That so‑called solution has
damaged the reputation of the department and the university”13.
end this story on a positive note. Despite their original intention to
exclude men from consideration in faculty hiring for three years, the
department voted to end this shameful practice after one year. To his
credit, Professor Santi, the chair of the department, cast the deciding
vote. There is additional reason for hope. In December 2002, a COMPAS
poll found that 85 percent of Canadians rejected the idea that a person
should be hired on the basis of sex or race.
Wente, 'On When Men Need Not Apply," Globe
and Mail, 27 July 1999, A22.
Ontario Human Rights Code,
Federal Contractors Program,
Tracy Isaacs, "Compliance with FCP Is Everyone's Concern," Western News, University of
Western Ontario, 14 November 2002, 4.
Wente, "On When Men Need Not Apply," Globe
Smith, "Why Men Are Asked Not to Apply," Globe anal Mail, 10 August 1999, All.
Murray Miles, "The Laurier Affair," The
Record, 17 August 1999, A7.
Barry Ries, "Employment Equity or Discrimination?° Laurier News, WLU, 23 September,
Grant Brown, "Discrimination in Hiring: The Statistical
E‑%2dence," in In Defence ofAcademic Freedom and
Scholarship‑‑Critical Issues Bulletin 3, ed.
M. Walker (Vancouver, BC: Fraser Forum, 1993), 40‑48.
D. Irvine, 'Jack and Jill and Employment Equity," Dialogue, 35 (1996): 255‑91.
Collective Agreement, Wilfrid Laurier University, Article 22, Employment Equity <http:/
John Fekete, Moral Panic:
Biopolitics Rising (Montreal,
Quebec: Robert Davies Publishing, 1995). See also Society for Academic
"Laurier Wisely Ends Biased Hiring Plan," The Record (Kichener, Ontario), 11 May 2000, A10.
Note: This paper is
adapted from remarks delivered at a conference, cosponsored by the New
York Association of Scholars, titled "Academic Freedom and Intellectual
Pluralism: U. S. and Canadian Perspectives." The conference
took place at Medaille College in Buffalo, NY, on 21 and 22 September 2002.
Seligman is professor
of Psychology at the University of Western Ontario and
president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, e-mail: Seligman.
The author thanks the Donner Canadian
Foundation for its support.
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