May 6, 2002

John Furedy

Letter to Editor, University of Toronto Bulletin

Employment equity report flawed

As judged by the comments of Professors Vivek Goel, vice-provost (faculty), and Angela Hildyard, vice-president (human resources), this year’s report on employment equity has the enthusiastic blessing of the administration (Positive Trends in Employment Equity, April 22). Especially on the “representation of women” in “positions of academic leadership,” Vice-Provost Goel states that the “longer term trends are clearly in the direction that we want.” Vice-President Hildyard, presumably in an elaboration of the “excellence-through- diversity” doctrine, states that U of T will be looking for the “best staff” who in her view “are also those who increase our diversity, so that we can deal with our more diverse student population.”

I am less enthusiastic than these administrators about the employment equity report. In my view, there are two important issues that are not adequately addressed in our annual reports, either this year’s or previous ones. The first arises from the claim that diversity of people, rather than of ideas, is necessary for excellence in higher education. This is stated at the end of the first paragraph of Section 1, Equity and Diversity at the University of Toronto: “we can-not expect to be excellent without being diverse,” and, further, without diversity we cannot have a significant impact on “our local and international environment.”

This claim appears to me to stem from an “identity politics” view of relations in society. According to this position, what is important is the colour of people’s skin, or the nature of their genitals, rather than — to adapt Martin Luther King’s phrase — the content of their ideas.

That this view is quite extreme is demonstrated by how very easy it is to think of counterexamples. For instance, if the claim of necessity is true, then the all-male economics department of the University of Chicago (with its seven Nobel laureates and a  well-known reputation for debate and the conflict of ideas) was not an excellent one and the so-called “Chicago Boys” had minimal impact on the “international environment.” The latter point is convincingly refuted by the current documentary series Commanding Heights, if nothing else.

The second overlooked issue is the role of “equity” in faculty hiring. One problem of principle that we should carefully consider is the conflict between equity and merit considerations in what is, in the end, a competition that only one candidate can win.  And whereas in the past this may have been an abstract, conceptual issue, there is now systematic evidence (such as that recently published by Professor Doreen Kimura of Simon Fraser University in UBC Reports, Jan. 10, 2002, or by Professor Clive Seligman of the University of Western Ontario in Newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, #28, April 2001) of “reverse “discrimination” against young white males in university hiring in Canada, with men having only about half the success rate of women.

I hope both that the next annual report will pay attention to these issues and that the university community will debate them with more depth than it has done so in the past.

John Furedy, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto
 

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