SAFS Letter to Dean Cairns, Faculty of Medicine, University of British Columbia

September 2001

June 20, 2001

Dear Dean Cairns:

We are a national organization of scholars whose goals are to promote academic freedom in teaching, research, and scholarship and to uphold the merit principle as the basis of academic decision-making regarding students and faculty. For further information, please visit our website at

I am writing to you, because it has come to our attention that your medical school is proposing to set aside up to 5% of places in the entering class for aboriginal students. Our understanding is that this proposal is part of a program to address the health status of aboriginal people in British Columbia, as well as diversity issues generally. Though the intent of your proposal may be well intentioned, we believe that the establishment of quotas is unwise and dangerous for the following reasons:

The creation of a quota system is an admission that applying the normal academic admission procedures to all applicants equally would not lead to as many aboriginal students being admitted as you would like. Thus it follows that to meet your quota you will be admitting less qualified aboriginal students while rejecting more qualified non-aboriginal students. Our evaluation is supported by a recent study of affirmative action in five US public medical schools (see enclosed report in the Chronicle of Higher Education). The study found that minority students were admitted with lower grades and MCAT scores, and subsequently performed more poorly on US medical licensing examinations. The study also reported that 3,500 non-minority students were rejected although they had better qualifications than the minority students accepted.

Furthermore, your proposed quota system is based on the following mistaken beliefs (some might say demeaning stereotypes): (1) that aboriginal doctors will choose medical specialities in which aboriginals would be the major beneficiaries, (2) that non-aboriginal doctors are less likely than aboriginal doctors to treat aboriginal patients, and (3) that aboriginal patients would not seek or accept, or would be less willing to seek or accept, medical attention from non-aboriginal doctors. Given that those admitted under the quota system may be expected to perform more poorly after graduation, it also implies that aboriginal patients should be satisfied with less than the best qualified physicians.

There is no reason to admit students into medical school on the basis of race. Indeed, there are very strong reasons to ignore race as an admission criterion: fairness to all applicants, competence of future doctors, and respect for aboriginal people who deserve to be held to the same standards of performance as others and who deserve the same high standards of competence in their physicians as do other Canadians.

Our objection is not to your desire to address health problems in the aboriginal community, but to your use of a quota system. More imaginative potential solutions such as providing incentives to physicians to work in areas where there are a shortage of doctors, or developing programs to identify promising aboriginal students earlier in their education should be considered. Preferential admission policies are discriminatory, full stop. If we want to rid society of the problems caused by discrimination, then the first step should be to stop discriminating.

We would be grateful for your reaction to our concerns. We will post our letter and your response on our website.

Clive Seligman, President

cc: Dr. Martha C. Piper, President, UBC.