June 10,  2002

James Robert Brown

Letter to Editor, University of Toronto Bulletin

Diversity improves quality of research

John Furedy's letter attacking equity hiring doesn’t take into account several important things (Employment equity report flawed, May 6).

First, the statistics gathered by Kimura and by Seligman that Furedy mentions in support of his view do not distinguish between tenure-track and limited term jobs.  A few years ago, one woman I know had a temporary job (over a 5 year period), during which she was recorded as 5 female hires (she was renewed each year), while a male who went into a tenure-track position was a single hire.  Her home university bragged that they had hired 5 times as many females as males during that period.  Of course,  this is just an anecdote, but it illustrates the problem of failing to make the distinction.  I don't know if Stats Can now distinguishes between them, but they didn't at the time of  earlier studies.  I know from anecdotal experience that many departments, after hiring a male, would (under some sort of pressure) fill a one-year job with a female.  Statistically it looks like equality, but it's highly misleading without the extra  information about the type of job.

I served as chair of the Equity Committee for the Canadian Philosophical Association during the mid-90s.  We gathered hiring figures (into tenure-track positions) and PhD figures.  During the three-year period we looked at, women obtained 33% of the PhDs but only 28% of the jobs.  Given that some places really do have effective affirmative action policies,  this suggests that there are others who are discriminating against women.  The idea that white males can't get a job (at least in philosophy) is laughably absurd.

Second, there are other reasons for affirmative besides getting the right ratio given the candidate pool: role models, for instance.  Take the example of black or native job candidates.  They are probably 1% of the philosophy candidate pool, if that.  But hiring such a candidate would help the image of philosophy greatly among black or native students, who, as a result, might come to think the subject  has something to do with them after all and they might, in consequence, start thinking about becoming an academic philosopher themselves.  Being content with hiring at the 1% pool rate would be absurd in cases like this.  Admittedly, the women’s case isn't as bad as this, but the problem (to a lesser degree) is the same, nevertheless.

Third, there is an epistemic bonus to having unusual people around.  People with different backgrounds and different prejudices see things in different ways (perception of ducks vs rabbits, etc) and this can be enormously  useful in the objective search for knowledge.  For this consideration,  pool rates are simply irrelevant.  This is not a case of sacrificing the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of some social goal.  A diverse collection of researchers actually improves the quality of research.

 James Robert Brown, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto

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