Human rights complaint filed

Jun 25, 2003, vol. 27, no. 5
By Carol Thorbes

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Simon Fraser University has developed a plan to address concerns about equity in the Canada Research Chair nomination process.

However, the plan is not placating Marjorie Griffin Cohen (left).

A political scientist and women's studies professor at SFU, Griffin Cohen is one of eight female professors who have filed a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) against Industry Canada.

“I am pleased to see that SFU intends to take steps to change discriminatory actions within this university,” says Griffin Cohen. “However, I fear that they do not address some of the most serious issues and will be too little, at this stage in the process, to make a significant difference.”

Industry Canada, a federal ministry, administers the Canada Research Chair program, a five year initiative allotting $900 million in funding to universities across Canada for the appointment of 2,000 chairs.

The program aims to retain Canada's best academic researchers and attract new ones.

Universities nominate chair candidates, who must be approved by the program's steering committee.

The CHRC complaint alleges that the nomination process at most universities discriminates against female and minority candidates.

Industry Canada is accused of failing to make sure university nominations are based on open and fair consideration of all possible candidates.

Nationally, university nominations are accused of favouring predominately white male candidates.

The human rights complaint cites SFU, which has only one female appointee out of 14, as having one of the worst equity records in the program.

The complaint has prompted Industry Canada to direct universities to submit plans for ensuring their nomination process is equitable.

“There is unanimous agreement that 16 per cent of Canada Research Chairs awarded nationally to women appears to be low compared to the 26 per cent of women faculty at Canadian universities,” notes Rene Durocher, executive director of the chairs program.

SFU will attempt to boost its current seven per cent allocation of chairs to female candidates to 16 per cent by the time its remaining 30 chairs are filled.

VP-academic John Waterhouse maintains SFU's nomination process is always open, transparent and driven by academic merit.

But he notes, “At the half way point there is still a chance to reverse our record in the Canada Research Chair program. Such a reversal requires that aggressive and proactive measures be taken.”

Griffen Cohen feels the university should be doing more to ensure the equitable appointment of candidates from all inadequately represented minority groups, such as First Nations, and not just females.

“SFU is still not requiring that each Canada Research Chair position be advertised. Also, since our complaint to the Canadian Human Rights Commission is based on the very poor national average, SFU seems to have set its sights particularly low.”

SFU's plan requires that designated faculties seek out meritorious female candidates for a designated number of chairs.

The goals are: one Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and one Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) chair in applied sciences; three SSHRC chairs in the arts; two NSERC chairs in science and two Canadian institutes of health research chairs in the institute for health research and education.

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