August 15, 2011
Dr. Roseann O’Reilly Runte
President and Vice-Chancellor
503 Tory Building
Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6
Dear President Runte:
I am writing to you as president of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. 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: www.safs.ca.
We are concerned about a recent Carleton University faculty job advertisement (attached) in Canadian Studies News (and distributed widely via email by Richard Nimijean, Assistant Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) for a two-year visiting Aboriginal-scholar position for the Indigenous Studies Program. The ad states that the position, at the assistant professorship level, “is open only to Aboriginal applicants (First Nations, Metis, Inuit).” Ironically, at the bottom of the ad is the statement that “Carleton University is committed to fostering diversity within its community…All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply.”
Many people will draw the inference that Carleton believes there are some positions for which only Aboriginal applicants are qualified. And from there, they will also draw the inference that there may be some positions for which only other ethnic groups are qualified. Such suggestions run counter to the very basis of the modern university, in which qualification depends not on race but on achievement, and in which learning and teaching are open to all. Should your position require that specific qualifications (such as having had experience living on or teaching on a reserve) be satisfied, these qualifications can be included in your advertisement without the current reference to race.
To be fair, we accept that your intention to increase the number of Aboriginal faculty, students, and curriculum content is well meaning. However, a good intention does not excuse what is essentially a racially discriminatory hiring policy. And, there is no reason to restrict the applicant pool – you would lose nothing by opening up the competition for this job to all people, so long as you were also open to hiring the person who could do the job the best, regardless of the race of the applicant.
Indeed, there are strong reasons to ignore race as a job criterion: fairness to all qualified applicants, competence of future faculty, and respect for Aboriginal people who deserve to be held to the same standards as others when applying for an academic job. It is not much of a stretch to say that when you restrict the applicant pool to Aboriginals, you are suggesting that Aboriginals cannot compete with non-Aboriginals. And, equally problematic, you are suggesting that Aboriginal students cannot thrive unless tutored by Aboriginal faculty.
We urge you to open up this faculty position to all applicants.
We would be grateful for your response to our concern. We will post our letter and your response on our website.
Clive Seligman, President
cc: Dr. Richard Nimijean, Associate Dean,
Dr. Donna Patrick, Director, School of Canadian Studies.