Diversity Debates: University of Toronto

September 2002

The followings five letters were published in the University of Toronto Bulletin. See SAFS website for additional letters on this topic.

1. As judged by the comments of Professors Vivek Goel, vice provost (faculty), and Angela Hildyard, vice president (human resources), this year’s report on employment equity has the enthusiastic blessing of the administration (Positive Trends in Employment Equity, April 22). Especially on the “representation of women” in “positions of academic leadership,” Vice Provost Goel states that the “longer term trends are clearly in the direction that we want.” Vice President Hildyard, presumably in an elaboration of the “excellence through diversity” doctrine, states that U of T will be looking for the “best staff” who in her view “are also those who increase our diversity, so that we can deal with our more diverse student population.”

I am less enthusiastic than these administrators about the employment equity report. In my view, there are two important issues that are not adequately addressed in our annual reports, either this year’s or previous ones. The first arises from the claim that diversity of people, rather than of ideas, is necessary for excellence in higher education. This is stated at the end of the first paragraph of Section 1, Equity and Diversity at the University of Toronto: “we cannot expect to be excellent without being diverse,” and, further, without diversity we cannot have a significant impact on “our local and international environment.”

This claim appears to me to stem from an “identity politics” view of relations in society. According to this position, what is important is the colour of people’s skin, or the nature of their genitals, rather than — to adapt Martin Luther King’s phrase — the content of their ideas.

That this view is quite extreme is demonstrated by how very easy it is to think of counterexamples. For instance, if the claim of necessity is true, then the all male economics department of the University of Chicago (with its seven Nobel laureates and a well known reputation for debate and the conflict of ideas) was not an excellent one and the so called “Chicago Boys” had minimal impact on the “international environment.” The latter point is convincingly refuted by the current documentary series “Commanding Heights,” if nothing else.

The second overlooked issue is the role of “equity” in faculty hiring. One problem of principle that we should carefully consider is the conflict between equity and merit considerations in what is, in the end, a competition that only one candidate can win. And whereas in the past this may have been an abstract, conceptual issue, there is now systematic evidence (such as that recently published by Professor Doreen Kimura of Simon Fraser University in UBC Reports, Jan. 10, 2002, or by Professor Clive Seligman of the University of Western Ontario in Newsletter of the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, #28, April 2001) of “reverse “discrimination” against young white males in university hiring in Canada, with men having only about half the success rate of women.

I hope both that the next annual report will pay attention to these issues and that the university community will debate them with more depth than it has done so in the past.

John Furedy, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, May 6, 2002.

2. John Furedy's letter attacking equity hiring doesn’t take into account several important things (Employment equity report flawed, May 6).

First, the statistics gathered by Kimura and by Seligman that Furedy mentions in support of his view do not distinguish between tenure track and limited term jobs. A few years ago, one woman I know had a temporary job (over a 5 year period), during which she was recorded as 5 female hires (she was renewed each year), while a male who went into a tenure track position was a single hire. Her home university bragged that they had hired 5 times as many females as

males during that period. Of course, this is just an anecdote, but it illustrates the problem of failing to make the distinction. I don't know if Stats Can now distinguishes between them, but they didn't at the time of earlier studies. I know from anecdotal experience that many departments, after hiring a male, would (under some sort of pressure) fill a one year job with a female. Statistically it looks like equality, but it's highly misleading without the extra information about the type of job.

I served as chair of the Equity Committee for the Canadian Philosophical Association during the mid 90s. We gathered hiring figures (into tenure track positions) and PhD figures. During the three year period we looked at, women obtained 33 percent of the PhDs but only 28 percent of the jobs. Given that some places really do have effective affirmative action policies, this suggests that there are others who are discriminating against women. The idea that white males can't get a job is laughably absurd.

Second, there are other reasons for affirmative action besides getting the right ratio given the candidate pool: role models, for instance. Take the example of black or native job candidates. They are probably one percent of the philosophy candidate pool, if that. But hiring such a candidate would help the image of philosophy greatly among black or native students, who, as a result, might come to think the subject has something to do with them after all and they might, in consequence, start thinking about becoming an academic philosopher themselves. Being content with hiring at the one percent pool rate would be absurd in cases like this. Admittedly, the women’s case isn't as bad as this, but the problem (to a lesser degree) is the same, nevertheless.

Third, there is an epistemic bonus to having unusual people around. People with different backgrounds and different prejudices see things in different ways and this can be enormously useful in the objective search for knowledge. For this consideration, pool rates are simply irrelevant. This is not a case of sacrificing the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of some social goal. A diverse collection of researchers actually improves the quality of research.

James Robert Brown, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto, June 10, 2002.

3. In his letter of June 10, Professor Jim Brown refers to a study concerning hiring that he was involved with where it was concluded that women “obtained 33 percent of the PhDs but only 28 per cent of the jobs.”

In his report, which is available online at the Canadian Philosophical Association website (, Brown comments that “of the 97 students receiving a PhD during the period from July 1, 1993 to June 30, 1996, 32 were women (33%)” but that, in 1996, only 29 per cent of the jobs went to women. (These are Canada wide statistics for Philosophy). He then concludes that "the rate of hiring women is very far from the goals set by the CPA and, in fact, does not even match the candidate pool of 33 per cent women. Even those who oppose affirmative action and want gender blind hiring practices should be upset with these results, since they suggest a slight discrimination against female candidates."

However, it’s important to point out that Brown is reporting about a total of only 7 positions nationally Thus, had just one more position gone to a woman, say, then the percentage of women hired would have jumped to 43! Had just one more position gone to a man, say, then the percentage would have fallen to 14!

To suggest that such small numbers are statistically significant is clearly something of a stretch, to say the least. This is especially true in light of much more widely confirmed and statistically significant data gathered over many years and in several studies that points to the opposite conclusion.

Andrew Irvine, Department of Philosophy, University of British Columbia, July 22, 2002.

4. Professor James Robert Brown responded to the hiring statistics provided by Kimura and Seligman, as cited by Furedy in his letter of May 6, with anecdotes and assertions, supposedly in the hope that the readers of The Bulletin are not sophisticated enough to distinguish between a group’s average response and any one individual’s response and between a fact based argument and an intuition based pronouncement (Diversity improves quality of research, June 10).

Brown is concerned that statistics that show that women are hired in greater numbers than their representation in the applicant pool are only valid if one combines tenure stream and non tenure stream appointments. The University of Toronto’s 1999 2000 employment equity report, Table 13, provides data on exactly this point. Women were 28 per cent of the applicants for tenure stream appointments but 33.3 per cent of the new hires, a finding consistent with what Kimura and Seligman reported for faculty appointments at UBC, SFU and UWO.

Brown further clouds the discussion by reporting a study he did where women “obtained 33 per cent of the PhDs but only 28 per cent of the jobs.” He did not report the more critical comparison of the percentage of new hires of women with the percentage of women in the applicant pool. Without knowing how many women applied for positions, Brown cannot logically conclude, based on his data, that female applicants were discriminated against.

Finally, Brown assumes that minority students’ need for role models requires giving hiring preferences to minority applicants for faculty positions. The mere presence of these minority professors, according to Professor Brown, would then improve the image of his field (philosophy) “among black or native students, who, as result, might come to think the subject has something to do with them after all....” I don’t know which is more irksome: his patronizing attitude towards minority professors and students or his belief that philosophy has merit to the degree that students’ skin color matches that of their professors.

Making academic decisions based on race or sex is always a bad idea, whether done to keep out minorities by placing state police swinging nightsticks in the entranceway or by having Professor Brown usher them in waving racial and gender preferences.

Clive Seligman, Department of Psychology, University of Western Ontario, June 26, 2002.

5. Paul Muter reproaches Professor John Furedy for objecting to the employment equity report (Diversity can increase excellence, May 21). “Professor John Furedy apparently fails to recognize,” Professor Muter writes, “that there are at least two conditions under which increasing diversity tends to increase excellence” — the composition of police forces and the entry of blacks into major league baseball. The examples are fine; diversity helps where it’s relevant. But is there any evidence that it’s relevant in the university, which is what Professor Furedy wrote about? In baseball, blacks were not merely discriminated against, they were barred outright from the entire structure of organized baseball. As a result, as every baseball follower knows, a large pool of talent built up in the Negro Leagues. Is there any evidence that pools of talented physicists, economists and geneticists are denied entry into the universities or face barriers within them? Furthermore, now that the barrier to black players has long gone, diversity appears irrelevant in the teams’ search for talent. Performance is what counts.

Does anyone suggest that medical research would be improved if the seemingly disproportionate number of Jews and Chinese in that field were diluted? In the same vein, the ranks of professional football and especially basketball players consist entirely of males and mostly of blacks. Where are the proposals to achieve diversity and thereby strengthen these teams by hiring women and more whites?

What these examples show is that the issue is not diversity. That word is a euphemism and smokescreen for a patronizing program of social engineering that has little relevance to the universities.

James Robert Brown also takes issue with Professor Furedy (Diversity improves quality of research, June 10). His conclusion is emphatic: “A diverse collection of researchers actually improves the quality of research.” But his long letter contains not a thing that supports it.

Leo Zakuta, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto, June 26, 2002.