(The Bulletin, University of Toronto)

Academic Merit Undervalued
John Furedy
Department of Psychology
May 31, 2004
The Bulletin’s annual paean for the university’s employment equity policy (“University Making Progress on Equity but More Work to Be Done”, May 20) ignores, as usual, the alternative interpretation that the “progress” in increasing women’s representation in faculty positions may actually be a “regress” towards preferential hiring that undervalues academic merit.
Aside from that interpretation, there is the interesting fact that in the hard sciences (a category that excludes the life, and social, sciences, as well as the humanities), women continue to be “under-represented” at a rate of 14.5%.  This contrasts with increases, since 1997, in other  disciplinary  categories.  Presumably it is this continuing low percentage in the hard sciences that Professor Angela Hildyard, vice president (human resources and equity) had in mind when she stated that “We want to ensure that we continue to make equity and diversity integral to our priorities at all levels (my emphasis)”.
Evidence from biological psychology  suggests that the low female percentage in the  hard sciences  is a “level” on which little “progress” will be made, no matter how much more “more work is done”.  This evidence  has  recently   been presented  by the  eminent Canadian  researcher Doreen   Kimura  in  her  2003  book,  Sex and Cognition (for reviews see   The findings are that there are significant  group sex differences in cognitive abilities in such categories as higher mathematics, as well as in motivation.  The motivational difference is that women, on the average,  prefer life - over physical - sciences,  even if they are  capable of performing equally well in either area.   These sex differences  appear to have a significant biological basis, although undoubtedly societal factors also contribute.
Another more indirect source of evidence is based on analysis of  the tenure-stream advertisements, assessed in terms of their relative emphases on merit and equity.  In   a   recent study (supported   by   the   Donner  Ca-nadian  Foundation)  that examined Ontario  university advertisements before and after the  1995 NDP -to- PC  shift (
we found that only the hard-science departments increased their merit requirements by, for example, using phrases like “outstanding record of research publications” rather than ones like “an interest in developing a research program”. 
In contrast, across all disciplines, there was an increase on the equity emphasis.   For example there was an increase in phrases like “especially welcome applications from women” relative to “weaker” phrases like “welcome applications from both women and men”.
An interpretation of the unique hard-science increase-in-merit emphasis coupled with the non-differential increase in equity of all academic units is that the hard-science departments protected the integrity of their disciplines against merit-diluting equity pressure from equity officers and offices by strengthening their merit requirements in their advertisements.
Whatever the reasons for hard sciences not currently measuring up to our administration’s goals of “equity” and “diversity”, it does appear that if these trends continue, the most important division in the university of the future will be between those departments that treat merit seriously and those that do not.

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