The slow march toward equity in the academy

This story was originally published in the April 2018 issue of the CAUT Bulletin.

Post-secondary institutions have claimed for decades that they are committed to equity and diversity, but their principled stand still falls short. There is progress for women, and more Aboriginal and racialized academics are working in our universities and colleges, but institutions are progressing slowly: too slowly according to a new Education Review released by CAUT.

While data from the 2016 long-form census and the University and College Academic Staff System show a slight gain among racialized academic staff in the university sector - growing from 7 per cent to 20 per cent between 2006 and 2016 - less headway was made in the college sector, where racialized instructors represent less than 15 per cent of teaching staff.

As well, the average representation of racialized people at Canadian universities masks significant differences among particular groups. The increase in black academic staff, for one, has been significantly slower in the last 10 years than their representation in the overall labour force. Also, racialized men and women are more precariously employed, with racialized women most underrepresented among full-time workers in the university sector and experiencing higher rates of unemployment.

"We have to celebrate victories, but at the same time remain aware of how that kind of progress can be undermined," says CAUT Equity Committee chair, Pat Armstrong. "We spend a lot of time saying 'that's not enough'. It's never enough, but we have to take what there is and build on it for bigger demands."

The survey data also show Aboriginal academics account for only 1.4 per cent of all university professors, compared to 1 per cent in 2006. This is much lower than their 3.8 per cent representation in the labour force. In colleges, Aboriginal academics constitute 3 per cent of all academics.

Indigenization of the academy is a way to increase the number of Aboriginal academic staff. The general idea is that by creating an amicable environment that includes elements of Indigenous culture and knowledge, and by creating Indigenous spaces on campuses, it will attract Indigenous students and faculty and improve the relationship between Indigenous people and the university community as a whole.

"Historically, universities have played a role in colonization because most of the people who played a role in colonization were educated at universities," says David Newhouse, professor and director of the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent University. "Indigenization is a way to make amends for their actions and to shape a better future together."

Survey results also show that women account for 44 per cent of university teachers and 54 per cent of college instructors. While an increasing number of women have joined university faculties since 2006, full-time female academics continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts, at only 90 cents on the dollar, a number up negligibly from 2006.

Women are also dramatically underrepresented in numerous disciplines, including architecture, engineering, mathematics, computer and information sciences, physical and life sciences and technologies, and business, management and public administration programs.

CAUT's Education Review also shows that wage gaps exist between the dominant group (non-Aboriginal, non-racialized and male) and all others. The gap is the biggest for racialized female professors who earn 70 cents for every dollar earned by the dominant group. A wider salary gap exists between these groups at the college level.

"It's important to educate and raise awareness about equity, because it's often not very visible and, especially now, because people have become more careful about overt signs of discrimination, or harassment. It takes on a much more subtle form that continues, like systemic discrimination in pay," notes Armstrong.

"What we haven't tackled yet is the inequality among different faculties, and departments within faculties, which are male and female dominated," adds Armstrong. "It's that kind of systemic discrimination that is much harder to tackle, and reveal, and make people understand and think about. The CUPE strike at York is an example, where there are big discussions about precarity. But if you are going to base your system on seniority, the people who are already in a position of seniority and can move up, don't represent diversity."

A way forward might be to change university salary structures, says CAUT executive director David Robinson. "The university salary grid with many progress-through-the-ranks steps limits everyone's ability to progress to the top salary scales. The more steps built in, the fewer the number of faculty who will reach the top end of the scale and we know that it affects underrepresented groups the most."

Another way is to tackle research funding. The Canada Research Chairs program introduced equity targets in 2006, following a human-rights settlement sponsored by CAUT that alleged discrimination in the way the chairs were chosen. The targets were based on the availability of eligible academics for the positions: 30.6 per cent for women, 15 per cent for visible minorities, 1 per cent for Indigenous peoples, and 4 per cent for persons with disabilities.

Although there has been progress among the 76 institutions supporting the work of 1,614 research chairs, most have failed to reach the target for each of the four designated equity groups. Currently, only 28.9 per cent of research chairs are held by women, 13.1 by visible minorities, 0.59 per cent by Indigenous scholars, and 0.59 per cent by persons with disabilities.

CAUT has lobbied for years that universities need more incentives to move toward equity. Last year, the Fundamental Science Review Panel also recommended that hard equity targets and quotas be considered by federal agencies "where persistent and unacceptable disparities exists, and agencies and institutions are clearly not meeting reasonable objectives."

On Nov. 2, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan announced changes to the Canada Research Chairs program, in a bid to increase the diversity of the researchers receiving federal funding. Earlier in the year, directors of the program unveiled new measures requiring universities to submit diversity plans along with their applications. In the future, institutions that fail to meet their targets risk having their funding withdrawn.

"We must make every effort to give more people - women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities and persons with disabilities - the chance to make their greatest contribution to research," said Duncan. "(The) changes to the CRCP will encourage greater diversity in research and will show Canadians that they have a place in science no matter their gender, race or heritage."

"We are happy that our voice was heard. Equity needs to be more than words," says CAUT's David Robinson. "Through the tri-council programs, the federal government distributes a lot of the research funding in our ecosystem. The decision to tie the money to an obligation from universities to achieve more diversity among their candidates is the best way to change the face of academia at a quicker pace."

Robinson adds that governments, institutions and academic staff associations need to look more critically at structures and practices that may be perpetuating inequities. "There is an opportunity here, given the aging academic workforce. As retiring faculty are replaced by new hires, universities should promote equity as a central objective in the renewal of faculty."