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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2000

Claim of Systemic Discrimination Based on Faulty Criteria

Chandrakant Shah (Commentary, April) purports to expose systemic discrimination at the University of Toronto. In making this serious charge against his university, he advances a concept of systemic discrimination that is unsound, as it relies on inappropriate criteria.

He implies three criteria for deducing systemic discrimination is operating -- the visible minority percentage of tenure faculty has increased slowly; the visible minority percentage of tenured faculty is below 15 per cent; and minority representation in the student body is higher than among faculty.

The application of these criteria would render an already fuzzy concept useless. Analyses based on them would be detrimental to fairness in educational institutions.

Employment systems certainly may operate in ways that unintentionally but systematically disadvantage potential or actual participants. Statistics and observations from universities can provide pointers to hidden factors that operate to disadvantage certain groups. But for such pointers to warrant further examination, a fair investigation should rule out plausible explanations of them that do not involve discrimination.

Shah's charge of discrimination at the U of T takes no account of the practicalities of appointments, departmental priorities, tenure, career spans, educational choices and the fact that the student body registers demographic change in a way the tenured faculty body cannot. The composition of the tenured faculty and the student body at U of T (and elsewhere) can be readily understood taking into account such factors.

Shah fails to convince that systemic discrimination is to be found at the U of T and "many institutions of higher learning."

Christine Furedy
Senior Scholar & Professor Emerita, York University