How NSERC Justifies the 'Women-Only' Faculty Awards

September 2000

Letter of Prof. John Yeomans, University of Toronto, to Dr. Thomas Brzustowski, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, and the reply.

January 8, 2000

Dear Dr. Brzustowski:

The reinstatement of "Women-Only-Need- Apply" faculty (UFA) fellowships by NSERC is a giant leap backward. The enclosed letter by Prof. Doreen Kimura shows that the theory of discrimination based on numbers hired is misguided, and that the idea that women are somehow inadequate to complete on their own merits is demanding.

Already there are many levels of blatant (Wilfrid Laurier U) or insidious (U Toronto, Windsor, UBC or others) discrimination in favor of hiring women scientists at most Canadian Universities (called affirmative action, or whatever). Your program further tips the scales against men and weakens the efforts to attain competitive scientific research programs in Canada. This reminds me of the bad-old days when Jews were excluded from faculty searches or professional schools.

Your UFA program shifts the search for brain power into a search limited to one sex. NSERC should be ashamed to put its good name on sex-based fellowship. Tell the politicians and social engineers that NSERC is about science not sex. Put the money back into fair fellowship competitions.

John Yeomans

January 14, 2000

Dear Professor Yeomans:

Thank you for recent letter on our University Faculty Awards. Your comments were very thoughtful and I would like to explain why we instituted this program.

Let me begin with the question of the need for measures aimed at increasing the number of female faculty in the natural sciences and engineering.

In recent years, we have seen a terrific growth in the number of female undergraduates in these disciplines. Young women now make up something like 37 per cent of the nation’s undergraduate scientists and engineers. But this growth has so far not been matched at the doctoral level where women are only 23 per cent of the population; and among faculty members the gap is greater still - only 11 per cent are women. This situation is most acute in engineering and applied sciences where just six percent of faculty are female.

It may be that trends in undergraduate enrolments will eventually translate into changes at the faculty level, but the progress is slow. At the current rate it would take almost a century for female faculty to reach parity with male faculty.

In our view, young women now studying in the NS & E at the undergraduate level should not have to content themselves with thoughts of the eventual successes of their great-grand-daughters. We believe Canada should do what it can now to encourage these talented young people to continue in their chosen fields.

Programs like UFA not only help qualified individual women, they also provide role models for the rising generation of female scientists and engineers.

I would like to stress the importance of that word "qualified". NSERC is committed to the highest standards of excellence in all of its programs, including the UFA program. All UFA nominees are assessed against their peers (both genders) when NSERC’s Grant Selection Committees (GSCs) evaluate their research proposals and records of achievement. If a GSC does not believe that an UFA nominee merits a research grant, in competition with all other applicants with a similar career profile, then the nomination is not approved. (In fact, comments from both the GSCs and University Faculty Award Selection Committee indicate that those who get UFAs are often among the very best of new applicants).

It is clear that holders of UFAs are fully qualified and that they are making outstanding contributions to their fields, as well as helping to open up their profession to the female half of Canada’s population.

I hope this clarifies our position, and, again, I appreciate your interest.

Thomas Brzustowski