Canada Research Chairs Politicized

September 2002

The following two letters and editorial were published in the National Post.

1. René Durocher, executive director of the Canada Research Chairs Program, has embarrassed himself and demeaned female scholars by advocating the politicization of appointments to these prestigious chairs. Referring to the fact that 15% of the chairs have been awarded to women, he said: "We have been talking to the universities and telling the presidents they must improve the situation."

Without explicitly claiming discrimination or providing any evidence, he irresponsibly implies that discrimination is at work in that university selection committees are bypassing deserving women in favor of less deserving men. If he does not mean to suggest discrimination, then what is the problem he wants the university presidents to improve?

Instead of expressing pride in how successful the Research Chairs program has been "in improving Canada's research capacity ...reversing the brain drain, as well as attracting international research stars," Durocher confused achievement with entitlement, violated university autonomy and willingly sacrificed academic freedom for sex-based social engineering.

Canada Research Chairs should be appointed through the normal academic processes, using well-established criteria for judging research excellence of individuals. Imagining the quality of the chairs could be improved by taking into account the sex of the candidate is not a harmless fiction, but a recipe for mediocrity, exactly the opposite goal for which the chairs program was instituted.

Canada's university presidents should speak out loudly against any attempts by Mr. Durocher to interfere with how research chairs are selected.

Clive Seligman, President, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship, June 1, 2002.

2. At least since the federal employment equity bill of 1986, Canadian universities have used not only merit but also sex in competitions for tenure-stream faculty positions. The more academically prestigious Canada Research Chairs (CRC) have, however, been protected against this sort of sexist discrimination; they are awarded solely on the basis of outstanding research performance. Now Rene Durocher, the director of the CRC program, proposes that the nature of the genitals of outstanding researchers be a criterion for selecting CRC competition winners, and that universities not meeting "targets" (i.e., quotas) be financially penalized ("Women awarded only 15 per cent of federal research chairs, May 29, 2002).

Academic research excellence may seem rather arcane and esoteric to many tax-paying Canadians, so let's consider a hypothetical example from a field with which more are familiar: professional basketball. Suppose that the NBA Commissioner had instituted a skin-color, "employment equity" requirement that stated that all NBA teams must aim to recruit a "representative" percentage of white players, and that, some years after instituting this recruiting policy, the Commissioner now complained that not enough white players had been selected as MVPs and/or members of All Star games. Suppose further that the Commissioner proposed to penalize teams and All-Star selecting committees who did not meet their "targets". How long would such a Commissioner keep his job?

John J. Furedy, Department of Psychology, University of Toronto, May 30, 2002.

3. Social engineers have their eyes on the $900-million Canada Research Chairs Program that the federal government founded two years ago. Its purpose is to create 2,000 research chairs at Canada's universities by 2005. To date, 500 chairs have been funded by Ottawa and 15 per cent of them have been awarded to women. This is too few according to the Humanities and Social Sciences Federation of Canada, a group that represents over 24,000 Canadian academics.

The $900-million fund, 80 percent of which is destined for research in the sciences, is supposed to add lustre to Canada's poor research and development credentials, reverse the brain drain and help universities attract the world's best minds. Rightly, Ottawa told universities to award the chairs on merit alone.

Wendy Robbins, the vice-president for women's issues of the federation, thinks this is a mistake. "Women researchers," said Dr. Robbins in an interview, "ask different questions than men and we need to make sure that way of looking at the world is protected." She is demanding that Ottawa make the grants dependent on universities meeting quotas for female appointments.

We have gone down this road before. Canada's Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, which will support 8,700 university researchers in Canada in 2001-2002, diverts $2.7-million a year exclusively to women. It does so because of a phantasm called "systemic discrimination," which believers say prevents women from getting ahead in sciences. In his letter to the editor today, René Durocher, executive director of the Canada Research Chairs program, promotes the same mischief, implying discrimination exists without any supporting evidence.

All this retards the promotion of science. The goal of the Canada Research Chairs Program and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council should be the promotion of good science, without the taint of social engineering. The only "fair share" that male and female researchers are entitled to is the share they win based on merit.