The 15% Solution

September 2000

The plan is a marvel of simplicity. No wonder the CAUT BULLETIN gave Prof. Chandrakant P. Shah’s proposal so much space ("Actions Speak Louder Than Words," April 2000). Its gist is that to attack "systemic discrimination….at least 15% of (university) faculty must be from visible (ethno-racial) minorities to maintain a minimal critical mass."

Academics, being notorious nit-pickers, will of course quibble with its elegant neatness. Some will say that the composition of faculties reflects such things as the different arrival times of groups in the country or on the academic scene or wide differences among them in education and aspirations. A few, more cynical, may say the proposal reminds them of the natural law of levitation as a social panacea. But these are the words of nay-sayers and should be disregarded.

Still, any plan, however ingenious, raises questions. For instance, in confining itself to "visible ethno-racial minorities," isn’t Prof. Shah’s proposal also discriminatory? It excludes many groups which have strong claims to his protective circle, such as:

  • religious minorities whose distinctive dress makes them clearly visible
  • the disabled: they may be not "ethno-racial’ but they’re often visible
  • gays and lesbians: although not "visible ethno-racial," why exclude them?
  • women: they’re hardly mentioned. Is it because, although visible, they’re not a minority in society?
  • the many invisible ethnic minorities which are seriously under-represented (right in Prof. Shah’s own university). For instance, French-Canadians, Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Poles and Ukrainians. So, the percentage will have to be amended - 15% won’t even begin to do the job. More like 65% - 75%, if women are included.

More questions:

  • Does the 15% apply to departments, faculties or the university as a whole?
  • If the 15% in a department or small faculty were women or Chinese or Hasidic Jews, would that be satisfactory? To whom?
  • What’s to be done with the groups so highly over-represented now to make room for these newcomers? Has Prof. Shah a plan for them too?

These quibbles aside, if the principle is sound, it deserves implementation. But why limit it to universities? If at least 15% is right for a university faculty, it must be right for every workplace in society. To achieve it we need not a Commission or Committee - they only waste time and never do anything - but a Kommissar of Kultural Klassification, aka the kindly KKK, whose first step would have to be an "ethno-racial" classification of the entire populace (of what?) to establish percentages. (Just as in the university to implement the 15% Solution). It can be done. There are famous percedents in the 20th century. It’s an inviting prospect of a well-ordered society, almost reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.