Turns out there is discrimination in hiring professors — but not against minorities

NationalPost.com – Opinion – Universities could only have reached 21.1 per cent visible minorities by heavily favouring non-whites in recent hiring. And that’s exactly what they’ve done
April 16, 2018.   Josh Dehaas

The Canadian Association of University Teachers wants you to believe that racialized professors are “Underrepresented and Underpaid” on campus. That’s the title they gave their new report, which delves into 2016 Census data.

“The data is revealing but comes as no surprise,” laments York University professor Pat Armstrong in the press release. “We can and must do better to address discrimination in employment at Canada’s universities and colleges.”

The data are revealing alright. But rather than showing widespread discrimination against non-whites, it actually shows the opposite: not only is the racial makeup of Canada’s professoriate now almost perfectly matched to the national labour force, but the data suggest universities have discriminated heavily against white academics to get there.

Consider what ought to be the headline number, which is glossed over in the report. The Census showed that 21.1 per cent of university instructors in 2016 were non-white. That’s exactly the same percentage (21.1) of the Canadian labour force aged 25 to 74 who were non-white that year. White people are no longer overrepresented overall in academia.

‘Underrepresented’ is just half of the title. The ‘underpaid’ part is likely also wrong.

But based purely on demographics, they should be. The university’s teaching staff is 11 years older on average than the labour force at large — 51 years versus 42 — and older workforces are whiter workforces. The labour force between the ages of 55 to 74 was 14.2 per cent visible minorities in 2016-17 and that figure would be far lower when many of today’s greying professors were hired.

In other words, universities could only have reached 21.1 per cent visible minorities by heavily favouring non-whites in recent hiring. And that’s exactly what they’ve done through decades of affirmative action policies.

But rather than celebrating what you’d think CAUT would see as a win, the report (and much of the media coverage it generated) focused on the fact that two groups — blacks and Indigenous Canadians — are underrepresented at universities relative to their numbers in the national labour workforce (2.0 per cent versus 3.1 per cent and 1.4 per cent versus 3.8 per cent). Curiously, they don’t seem to care much that Filipinos are by far the most underrepresented, making up 0.3 per cent of university teachers and 2.6 per cent of the labour force.

Either way, the underrepresentation of a few groups can’t be caused by the widespread discrimination in hiring against minorities, and the proof is right there in CAUT’s report. If non-whites in general were passed over, what would explain the overrepresentation of Arabs (2.4 per cent versus 1.2 of labour force), Chinese (5.7 versus 4.3), Japanese (0.6 versus 0.3), Koreans (0.7 versus 0.5 ) and West Asians (2.0 versus 0.7)?

“Underrepresented” is just half of the title. The “underpaid” part is likely also wrong.

The report suggests the fact that full-time visible minority teachers earned 9.9 per cent less ($107,556) than full-time white professors ($119,398) is evidence of discrimination against non-whites. What they don’t point out is that, based on immigration patterns, white professors are more likely to have been hired many years earlier and therefore have higher average ranks. The median salary of the highest rank, known as Full Professor, was $160,161 in 2016-17, while lower-ranked Assistant Professors earned $99,323. Rank could easily explain that 9.9 per cent difference.

If we really want to understand why blacks and Indigenous citizens might be underrepresented in the professoriate, there’s a good explanation, but it’s not discrimination in hiring. It’s that only 2.9 per cent of people with Indigenous identity and only 3.4 per cent of black Canadians hold graduate degrees, compared to 9.5 per cent of the workforce at large. Graduate degrees — and highly-specialized ones at that — are prerequisites for these jobs.

Indigenous Canadians in particular are so heavily underrepresented in the hiring pool that for some positions universities may not get any qualified applications at all. For example, only 11 per cent of Indigenous people with graduate degrees earned them in science, technology engineering or math (STEM), versus 24 per cent of the labour force overall. Out of 455,470 people with graduate STEM degrees according to the Census, only 2,505 were Indigenous. Not only is STEM where most of the hiring is these days, it also pays far more.

The lower level of graduate degrees among some racial groups does likely point to discrimination but a kind that happens much earlier in life than when one applies for a professorship. While it’s true that there’s no reason that ethnic representation in the population must be exactly mirrored in graduate schools, it’s also true that economic privilege plays a major role in who makes it that far academically. And there is no doubt that children living on reserves continue to get poorer-quality education than other Canadians and that needs to change. But it can’t be fixed by university hiring quotas, which is what many academic unions will use the CAUT report to try to justify.

But that will have the effect of making it harder for young professors who are not visible minorities to get into university faculties. Some schools have already begun formally excluding white people from consideration in hiring for certain positions. Not only is that fundamentally unfair and bad for the university, it won’t do anything to reduce discrimination.


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