Last month, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Systemic Discrimination—commissioned by the Joint Board-Senate Committee on Equity—released a comprehensive report based on a survey of tenure-track and tenured faculty at McGill. The report gave a glimpse of the ongoing forms of discrimination, such as racism and sexism, that permeate the workplace of many McGill professors, and provided recommendations to administration for addressing these issues.
While the report doesn’t provide a complete picture of the experience of McGill faculty—only 22 per cent of eligible respondents filled out the survey—it does reveal that many faculty members have experienced discrimination from staff, administrators, and students at McGill. For instance, 22 per cent of respondents claimed that the climate at McGill was not supportive of diversity. Over one third admitted they had experienced or were aware of other faculty experiencing negative treatment as a result of their identity, with gender being the most common reason. Twenty-four per cent felt that students had challenged their authority more frequently because of their demographic characteristics.
The results of the report serve as a pressing reminder of the need to promote diversity and inclusiveness among members of the McGill community. This becomes particularly urgent when one considers the findings of last year’s equitable hiring report: As of 2015, visible minorities and ethnic minorities comprise only 24 per cent and 15 per cent of McGill’s faculty, respectively, and hiring practices continue to fall short of the stipulations of the school’s 2007 equity policy. As the Working Group’s report further highlights, the issue of diversity must be considered with regard to the retention as well as the hiring of new faculty—the inclusivity of representation within existing staff impacts how prospective hires perceive McGill.
If the university fails to confront these problems in at the faculty level, it will have serious consequences for its reputation and its relationship with its student body. Professors are not simply educators but also role models for students. Ensuring that a wide range of demographics are represented in the faculty will help visible minorities as well as other disadvantaged groups in McGill’s student body feel accepted and valued.
The McGill administration also has more pragmatic incentives to promote inclusivity within faculties. The need for diversity is a growing concern in the public consciousness, and will affect how current and prospective McGill students, parents, and academics see the university. As such, failure to address these issues moving forward will hamper McGill’s ability to attract and maintain an exemplary student body and faculty, as well as to solicit donations from alumni.
The Working Group’s report provides a series of recommendations to address the problem of discrimination. These include mandatory Equity Audits for departments, establishing processes to protect staff reporting discrimination, and requiring participation in existing diversity awareness training programs for all faculty. The report also urges McGill to develop a plan for implementing these recommendations that includes specific dates and benchmarks to measure progress.
Given the importance of this issue, the McGill administration should heed the recommendations of the report, including the suggestion of a timetable for achieving measureable goals. Additional faculty surveys on the issue of discrimination in the future would also be beneficial, as they would help measure any shifts in the attitude of faculty members toward diversity after these solutions are implemented.
However, members of the McGill community must be conscious of several roadblocks that could impede progress on this issue. First, McGill has been impacted by provincial austerity measures which have restricted its budget and many faculty’s ability to hire new faculty. Second, Quebec’s immigration policies require the that new immigrants learn French, which can dissuade foreign candidates from choosing to pursue faculty positions at McGill. Finally, the fact that many of the practices mentioned in the report—such as hiring and promotion—are decided at the faculty level means that the administration must articulate a plan to encourage the various faculties to adopt many of the recommendations in the report.
Despite its methodological shortcomings, this report reveals that the issue of discrimination at the faculty level must be met with a cohesive strategy that extends across the university. Hiring decisions may take place in distinct faculties, but that should not hinder the university from leading a strategy to promote inclusivity.