June 26, 2002

Clive Seligman

Letter to Editor, University of Toronto Bulletin

Academic decisions based on race or sex a bad idea

Professor James Robert Brown responded to the hiring statistics provided by Kimura and Seligman, as cited by Furedy in his letter of May 6, with anecdotes and assertions, supposedly in the hope that the readers of The Bulletin are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between a group’s average response and any one individual’s response and between a fact-based argument and an intuition-based pronouncement (Diversity improves quality of research, June 10).

Brown is concerned that statistics that show that women are hired in greater numbers than their representation in the applicant pool are only valid if one combines tenure-stream and  non-tenure-stream appointments. The University of Toronto’s 1999-2000 employment equity report, Table 13, provides data on exactly this point. Women were 28 per cent of the applicants for tenure-stream appointments but 33.3 per cent of the new hires, a finding consistent with what Kimura and Seligman reported for faculty appointments at UBC, SFU and UWO.

Brown further clouds the discussion by reporting a study he did  where women “obtained 33 per cent of the PhDs but only 28 per cent of the jobs.” He did not report the more critical comparison of the percentage of new hires of women with the percentage of women in the applicant pool. Without knowing how many women applied for positions, Brown can not logically conclude, based on his data, that female applicants were discriminated against.

Finally, Brown assumes that minority students’ need for role models requires giving hiring preferences to minority applicants for faculty positions. The mere presence of these minority professors, according to Professor Brown, would then improve the image of his field (philosophy) “among black or native students, who, as a result, might come to think the subject has something to do with them after all....” I don’t know which is more irksome: his patronizing attitude towards minority professors and students or his belief that philosophy has merit to the degree that students’ skin color matches that of their professors.

Making academic decisions based on race or sex is always a bad idea, whether done to keep out minorities by placing state police swinging nightsticks in the entranceway or by having Professor Brown usher them in waving racial and gender preferences.

Clive Seligman, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario

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