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A commitment to diversity

Dalhousie Diversity Faculty Awards introduced

- April 1, 2011

Physics professor Kevin Hewitt is one of the few black professors at Dalhousie. (Nick Pearce Photo)
Physics professor Kevin Hewitt is one of the few black professors at Dalhousie. (Nick Pearce Photo)

When Anthony Stewart was an undergraduate student at the University of Guelph 25 years ago, the faces that looked back at him from the lectern were uniformly white and almost entirely male.

Factoring out gender, the department and faculty he works in today as a professor of English looks remarkably similar.

“So little has changed,” says Dr. Stewart, one of few black professors at Dalhousie. “We’ve been silently hoping as a society that things would get better and would just correct themselves. But that’s not happening.”

Proactive approach

Since 1989, Dalhousie has attempted to increase the diversity in faculty ranks through the Employment Equity Through Affirmative Action Policy. While significant improvements have been made in the representation of women on campus, Dalhousie hasn’t seen the gains it sought on the diversity front—seeing representation of Aboriginal people, racially visible people and people with disabilities. In fact, without a more pro-active approach, representation on faculty from these three groups may actually decline, says Bonnie Best-Fleming.

“Wringing our hands over this is not going to work,” says Ms. Best-Fleming, Advisor, Human Rights & Equity with Dalhousie’s Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention.

Which is why the university has launched the Dalhousie Diversity Faculty Awards, a program to increase representation of minority groups among professors and to provide role models across all Faculties. Championed by Alan Shaver, former Vice-President Academic and Provost, and his successor Carolyn Watters, the program has also been approved by the university’s Board of Governors.

“The success of a program like this will not simply be in the actual number of new hires,” says Dr. Watters, appointed to the position in February, “but in building a Dalhousie that better represents the whole of our society, to grow into an institution that is strengthened by increasing the opportunities to fully participate.”

The program will act as an incentive for faculty hiring from the three under-represented groups by paying up to half of salary for three to five years, a maximum of $50,000 a year, from the Academic Initiatives Fund. Starting this fall, the program will be in place for 10 years, with a maximum of five awards in place at a time.

Hiring occurs using the usual recruitment and hiring process, with advertising, interviewing and recommending a candidate to the Dean. The exception is that the advertising will only invite applications from visible minorities, particularly African Canadians, Aboriginal people, and persons with disabilities.

'Clearly differentiates us'

Anticipating arguments over preferential consideration, Dr. Stewart says universities already do that all the time. Dalhousie Medical School, for example, has a quota system for applicants based on the region of the country they’re from. It’s also common for job advertisements to spell out a preference for Canadian citizens and landed immigrants.

“Race is the only factor we’re asked to ignore and yet it’s the most obvious thing that clearly differentiates us,” says Dr. Stewart, who was able to get people at Dalhousie thinking about issues such as white privilege, race and integration with the publication of his 2009 book, You Must Be A Basketball Player: Rethinking Integration in the University (Fernwood Publishing).

He admits to being surprised by the reactions to his provocative book.

“It has to be said that I was very encouraged by the positive response to the book. The fact that we’re here is indicative of some progress,” he says, in reference to the introduction of the Dalhousie Diversity Faculty Awards.

“It’s saying, ‘we know what the problem is. Now let’s do something about it.”


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