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Editorial: McGill must address failure in equitable hiring

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McGill’s overall failure to fulfill its equity policy is a matter of concern for the university as a whole. In a report commissioned by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), entitled “Equity in the Hiring of McGill Academic Staff: An Investigation,” researchers found that although McGill has had an equity policy in place since 2007, it has failed to improve equity in hiring practices. Not only has the university done a poor job of providing resources to support equitable employment, it has also gotten worse in its hiring of Aboriginal people and people with disabilities. McGill must improve its mindset towards equitable employment across the university, otherwise it risks becoming a petrified relic of archaic hiring practices, unbefitting a 21st century institution of higher education. It is one thing to have a policy in place, quite another to implement it successfully at all levels of the university.

According to the SSMU report, McGill is far behind other universities, including Dalhousie, Queen’s, Western, York, and Windsor, in terms of its equity practices. The policies at these other universities ensure supervision of overall hiring practices and include proactive measures to include people of colour in positions where hiring decisions and policies are created. Though the exact mechanisms for doing so vary between institutions, it is clear that these universities are doing more than McGill. If the university is to maintain its reputation, it must show that this is true not only for its research and academics but also its equity. Despite its financial situation—the common excuse for a shortcoming at McGill—the university must show that equity is a priority.

Students and the university as a whole must understand that hiring equitably does not mean hiring less qualified candidates. Instead, equity means actively creating opportunities where there were formerly none. Equity in employment is defined by the Canadian government as a policy that “encourages the establishment of working conditions that are free of barriers, corrects conditions of disadvantage in employment, and promotes the principle that employment equity requires special measures and the accommodation of the four designated groups in Canada.” These four designated groups are expanded to six at McGill: Women, Aboriginal peoples, persons with disabilities, members of visible minority groups, members of sexual orientation minorities, and gender identity minorities are included in equitable hiring practices. As of 2010, when McGill’s Senate last published census information based on self-reporting, there had been little change in the amount of representation of any of these designated groups. There has been no further information made publicly available since then.

 

There is a lack of a cohesive framework for implementing that policy throughout the university.

It seems that the administration has been sitting on its haunches for the past nine years. At the administrative level, the Academic Personnel Office (APO) is responsible for overseeing the administrative functions of academic hires; however, its role is limited in terms of employment equity, and so academic hiring decisions rest “almost entirely” within their respective departments, according to the SSMU report. The Social Equity and Diversity Education Office (SEDE) is an important player in the McGill context, but has limited influence on the upper administration. As a result, the departments and faculties under scrutiny in the report hire at their own discretion. The Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Engineering both received employment equity training from SEDE. This, however, was only at the request of the Faculties themselves. This may in part be improved by greater communication between the various actors responsible for hiring, but the policy itself must also fall under scrutiny.

The policy, nearing its 10th year of implementation, is outdated and lacks actionable goals and measures for its progress. Going forward, it must create a policy that will clearly monitor and measure the opportunities for equitable hiring. Currently, there is a definitive lack of transparency in the data on diversity in the student body and staff. For there to be progress, the entire university community must know where it stands. Such measurements must also take into consideration the systemic issues at play whereby people are dissuaded from entering certain fields.

Change must, of course, occur within the administration and within hiring committees throughout the university. The SSMU report contains strong recommendations for what the administration ought to do in order to improve equity, such as establishing an employment equity committee, training those who hire academic staff in equity, and showing more leadership and commitment to equity. Yet there is also work for students and professors. In a 2010 report published by McGill’s Equity Subcommittee on Race and Ethnic relations, researchers found that non-tenured faculty members of colour do not speak out about their experiences in order to protect their employment. Non-visible minority professors must therefore be aware of their own position within an inequitable campus, and communicate this to students. This being said, the onus to invoke change should not fall on minority professors and students. All students and professors must put in a concerted effort to pressure the university to prioritize equity.

Equity is above all a practice. It necessitates an overarching policy that applies and is enforced at all levels of the university. While McGill may not be hiring frequently and must wait for vacancies to open, it must take every opportunity to hire equitably—this includes all possible positions in the university, from part-time staff to tenure-track professors and high-level administrators. Progress has certainly been made, but the overall picture is far bleaker than such optimistic headlines.

 

 

 

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