The faculty association at York University decided to take matters into its own hands to advance equity by making it a priority at the bargaining table. In doing so, the union succeeded in securing measures that could visibly change the face of the institution
During the last round of bargaining, the association negotiated an employer commitment to achieving a target of 20 per cent visible minority representation among academic staff. The association bargaining team also succeeded in obtaining recognition for LGBTQ2S individuals as an underrepresented group and ensuring that at least four Aboriginal academics would be hired over the course of the collective agreement.
“It’s still too early to see the real impact of these gains as we’re only in the first round of hiring since our agreement came into effect, but we’re optimistic,” said Sheila Embleton, a member of the union’s bargaining team. “It just goes to show what we can accomplish when we make equity a priority at the bargaining table.”
Yet at the same time, Embleton continued, “I do wonder why our association had to take the initiative to negotiate measures for equity. Why didn’t the employer take the initiative? Why, for instance, didn’t the administration put forward its own proposals based on the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission? Instead, it was up to the union to keep its finger on the pulse.”
In the last decade, equity has come a long way in the academic world thanks to the efforts of faculty association bargaining teams. Like York, other associations have committed to supporting an equity agenda, and have succeeded in making major gains for women, Aboriginal peoples, the LGBTQ2S community and people living with disabilities.
In 2013, the Simon Fraser University Faculty Association pressured the administration to initiate a pay equity audit. When the results were released in 2015, a joint committee was tasked with reviewed the salary equity findings and making recommendations for action.
In the end, all female, full-time, research faculty members on tenure-track or in tenured positions received a 1.7 per cent lift to their salary effective September 3, 2016, and the university established a fund of nearly $5 million to provide redress to female faculty members with compensation to be paid by one-time lump sums, differentiated based in part on the number of years that a particular individual would have been affected by the identified salary gap.
Gains have also come in other forms. In 2016, the University of Victoria established the only research chair in the world for transgender studies. “Equity isn’t something that just happens. It takes a multi-faceted, collective effort by many groups working together,” says Aaron Devor, the inaugural chair and a professor in the university’s sociology department.
Devor says a collective approach is a key element, since the individual members of each group have their own personal reasons for seeking change. “Equity starts with everyone making it their business to make the effort to learn as much as they can about the realities of people who are different from themselves — both those who are disadvantaged and advantaged in relation to themselves,” says Devor, who has been studying and teaching about transgender topics for more than 30 years and is the founder and academic director of the world’s largest Transgender Archives located at UVic.
In meetings with Federal Science Minister Kirsty Duncan, CAUT has stressed the importance of obtaining accurate data about the makeup of the professoriate that could provide information relevant to equity issues. The reinstatement of the national survey of academic staff, announced by Minister Duncan in September, was a step in the right direction. More recently, Minister Duncan has promised to tackle the equity issue in federal research programs such as the Canada Research Chairs.
Last fall, as part of CAUT’s submission to the federal government’s fundamental science review, the organization reiterated that fundamental research programs must be inclusive and reflect the diversity of Canada’s research community. As CAUT notes, “Federal research programs should be subject to a gender and equity impact analysis. The Canada Research Chairs and Canada Excellence Research Chairs programs in particular should be reviewed to ensure institutions are setting and meeting gender and equity targets.”
The programs have drawn sharp criticism for their lack of equity. In 2003, CAUT filed a human rights complaint on behalf of a group of women against the CRC program. While a settlement was reached requiring the CRC Secretariat to set targets and monitor progress, the case was recently reopened after it was revealed inequity endures in the program.
According to CAUT executive director David Robinson, a lack of reliable and comprehensive data on equity remains a frustration. “It’s widely recognized that we have a problem when it comes to equity in the academy. What we don’t know is just precisely how big that problem is or whether we’re making progress.”
Devor shares a similar view. “If we can’t count something, we can’t measure change. For example, very little good data exists about transgender and gender variant people. One common assumption is that there are infinitesimally few trans people. Recent, well-done surveys report that trans and gender variant people comprise around 1 in 200 (0.5 per cent) in urban populations. Better research will provide reliable data on which to base better policies and practices,” he says.
“It’s also important to raise our members’ awareness about equity issues and brainstorm practical ways to promote equity on our campuses by organizing activities, leveraging collective bargaining and using the grievance process,” says Wesley Crichlow, co-chair of CAUT’s equity committee.
Crichlow explains there are many challenges in universities for groups fighting for equity — from being requested time and again to serve on committees, to having to deflect seemingly harmless, yet hurtful, comments from others. “Doing equity work is mentally, emotionally and physically taxing when it appears you’re the only one driving the issue. That’s why it’s important to engage in dialogue, find those intersections where ideas converge and forge constructive alliances that deliver results,” he says.
Academic staff associations and unions also need to make equity a priority at the bargaining table and in challenging institutional policies and practices that can perpetuate inequity. “We need to keep our eyes peeled. The proliferation of student assessments is a good example. Recent studies have shown how these assessments systematically put women, LGBTQ2S and racialized communities at a disadvantage for tenure and promotion,” Crichlow said.