On March 21, 2001, the University of Saskatchewan signed an historic employment equity agreement subject to the supervision of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission.
In 1996, five members of the sociology department filed a sex discrimination complaint against the University of Saskatchewan, college of arts and sciences and the department of sociology, alleging "an absence of a gender balance in the tenure stream faculty (in the department) which duly reflects the representation of women in the labour market."
At the time the complaint was filed, only two of 16 faculty members in the department were female.
In the settlement negotiated between the college and the complainants, the college has agreed to give preference to female candidates in at least the next three available faculty positions within the department of sociology.
The college has also agreed that certain steps to facilitate a gender balance will be taken.
In particular, advertisements for positions in the department of sociology must state that the department "is seeking to address a gender imbalance" among its faculty complement and that "qualified female candidates are particularly encouraged to apply."
Rosemary Morgan, CAUT's equity officer, said despite the oft-heard criticism of employment equity as a quota system, quotas are not the foundation of this settlement.
"It is quite clear on the face of it that the focus is still to recruit and retain the highest quality faculty, but that a special effort must be made to reach out to qualified women," she said.
"If two equally qualified candidates apply, and one is female and one is male, the answer is a 'no-brainer' with this type of an agreement, at least until the imbalance is righted."
Under the terms of the settlement, the college will also increase the visibility and availability of gender relations program options within the department.
Critics may see this as preferential syllabus construction," Morgan commented, "but it is only preferential to the extent that instead of permitting the continuation of historic male-predominant models of learning, the University of Saskatchewan, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission, and the faculty complainants have achieved a consensus on the view that women do have a different perspective to bring to academic debate."
This type of settlement is innovative for the University of Saskatchewan, but it is seeing growing acceptance among employers both within academe and beyond.
At Dalhousie University an agreement to redress systemic race discrimination was signed late last year. "Like the University of Saskatchewan settlement, the goal is to right the balance, but less in terms of numbers and more in terms of systemic barriers to equality of participation in academe," Morgan said.
She also said agreements of these types need not be the result of human rights complaints or grievances.
"Collective bargaining, or other forms of negotiation are the best approach to redressing systemic discrimination before a costly, time-consuming and stress-inducing complaint is filed," Morgan told delegates at the recent CAUT Council meeting in Ottawa.
Under the terms of the agreement, the department must have a new employment equity plan in place by June 30, 2001.
The Dalhousie memorandum of understanding is available at www.dfa.ns.ca.