Sarkonak: Why Canadian universities are blocking able-bodied white men from some positions

Affirmative action debates, Canadian version. From softer preference to hard requirement. Not a fan of hard quotas as softer approaches can be effective without raising concerns, valid or not, about qualifications and merit.

And will the government move to hard quotas in public service hiring and the employment equity act?

People should not be barred from jobs because of their skin colour, or their gender. We call that “discrimination” — and it’s generally considered a bad thing. It’s also bad that universities across Canada are refusing to hire white men for various research positions, simply because they’re white, male and don’t claim to have any disabilities.

That’s right: the federally funded Canada Research Chair program, which doles out roughly $300 million every year to 2,000 academics, adheres to an identity quota system. Universities risk losing funding for positions if they haven’t hired the designated number of research chairs by 2029 in each “identity category” (women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities). As a result, some resumes are going straight into the trash.

I wish I was exaggerating. Being not white, male or able-bodied was a requirement for the University of British Columbia’s 2022 research chair job postings in food science and quantum computing. A mathematics department job posting for a research chair in computational cell biology specifically says that the “selection will be restricted to members of the following designated groups: women, visible minorities (members of groups that are racially categorized), persons with disabilities and Indigenous peoples.” 

Similar requirements were listed for the University of Toronto’s positions in managementeducationdentistryengineering and medicine. Queen’s University only wants women for geotechnical engineeringnuclear waste storage and applied artificial intelligenceWestern University doesn’t care about the researcher’s area of study in one opening, but requires that the candidate have a disability. A McGill posting prefers those who say they have a disability or are Indigenous. 

There are 78 schools in the Canada Research Chair program. Just Google “CRC” and any university’s name to look for more.

The Canada Research Chair program is doing this because of a Federal Court order that requires research appointments to reflect the Canadian population by 2029. It’s just following the law. Personally, I don’t think equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) should require exclusion, but alas. 

There’s a bigger picture to all this. The Canada Research Chair program is one of many under the nation’s three federal research funding agencies, which spend a combined $3 billion every year to advance our knowledge in health, science and the humanities.

They support numerous research positions, student jobs, academic awards and grants. Per their “Tri-Agency EDI Action Plan,” they’ve been tasked since 2018 with making students and researchers “representative of the Canadian population.” Universities, in their agreements to receive federal funding, must agree to promote “equitable practices.” 

At a glance, you’d think this means simply making sure that procedures are fair to everyone, regardless of background. But the Canada Research Chair program shows this can mean dismissing applicants outright if the quotas (or “equity targets”) haven’t been met. Good intentions appear to have paved the way to mandated discrimination.

Values attestations are making their way into job applications as well. A University of Ottawa job posting for a research chair in green chemistry — that is, the study of chemical reactions — requires a demonstrated history of incorporating EDI and a statement about doing so. Researchers should be free to talk about their values, including those who don’t agree with EDI. Academic freedom is supposed to allow for diverse ideas. Yet in this case, only one way of thinking is eligible. 

You might wonder if any professors oppose this kind of thing. Perhaps, but if promotions, funding and teaching positions are increasingly tied to their embrace of EDI, there’s a pretty big incentive to say nothing. Professors have families to feed, after all.

Those who have publicly dared to question these openly discriminatory practices haven’t been answered. During question period in the House of Commons on March 29, Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux raised concernsover the Canada Research Chair hiring exclusions at Laval University, and asked if the government agreed that exclusion is “not the way to go.” 

Reading from prepared notes, Andy Fillmore, the Liberal parliamentary secretary to the minister of democratic institutions, blamed former prime minister Stephen Harper’s government and assured the member that the current government is “committed to providing the resources and tools our scientists need to bring tangible benefits to Canadians’ health, environment, communities and economy,” which “will make Canada a leader in innovation.”

Although Fillmore refused to answer the question, it’s quite possible we’re headed for more mandatory diversity. The government used similar language in its bill to change the Broadcasting Act, Bill C-11, which would require media to “reflect” the viewpoints of the population. 

The problem isn’t that these ideas exist; the problem is that they’re being used to deny opportunities to people because of the body they were born in. When inclusion turns into active exclusion, it isn’t inclusion anymore.

Source: Sarkonak: Why Canadian universities are blocking able-bodied white men from some positions

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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