Thursday, May 11, 2000

Laurier wisely ends biased hiring plan

Editorial, The Record

It took awhile, but Wilfrid Laurier University's psychology department has finally got it right. It has decided to end its discriminatory policy of seeking only female candidates for departmental positions. Angelo Santi, head of the department, broke a tie when the department voted on whether to continue this policy. Without strong support for this policy, he said he thought proceeding would not be wise. He was right. What is surprising is not that the department has changed its view but that it ever thought anything other than an open application process was appropriate.

To be sure, the department's motives were not in dispute. The department wanted to correct a gender imbalance by advertising last July that only women should apply for a prof's job. At the time, there were four women in the department compared to 18 men. This imbalance was particularly inappropriate because three-quarters of the students who were studying psychology were female.

The department's discriminatory approach to solving this imbalance was wrong, however; because there was no evidence that the department had been discriminating against women. In fact, it had offered jobs to three women but they decided to accept positions at other universities. Wilfrid Laurier, apparently, was not able to be competitive, which is a problem but not one that justifies a discriminatory solution.

That so-called solution has damaged the reputation of the department and the university. A complaint, for example, was lodged with the Human Rights Commission. Just as important, it may have tainted the careers of the three profs who were hired under it.

There is no reason to believe that the successful applicants needed an artificial boost to join the department. Alexandra Gottardo, one of the new profs, said she didn't think the ad made any difference to her. A Canadian who had moved to United States, Gottardo was intending to apply for a job in Canada. Furthermore, Santi, the department head, said he couldn't see any difference between her and the candidates who were previously hired under open competitions.

What a pity that such a fine candidate has had to be associated with a tarnished application process.

The hope now is that the psychology department has learned a lesson and will never again pursue a discriminatory course that isn't worthy of a fine institution such as Wilfrid Laurier University.

Posted with permission

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