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CAUT Bulletin Archives

December 2005

Research Chairs Program Review Calls for Change

An independent review of the Canada Research Chairs Program that funds 2,000 positions at Canadian universities has found serious flaws in its design and implementation.

The program review conducted by CAUT highlights three major problems: equity, management of the awards by the host university and program stability.

“The most pressing failure of the program is its equity component,” said CAUT president Loretta Czernis.

The CAUT review surveyed current chair holders and found that only 20 per cent of the chairs are women and just 9 per cent are visible minorities.

“Two thousand new positions could have allowed Canadian universities to deal with a history of inequity. Instead, the CRC program has perpetuated that inequity,” Czernis said.

“We are also concerned that the program has shifted university priorities away from subject areas preferred by faculty and students.”

CAUT is recommending the government create an additional 500 chairs to be awarded to women and members of other designated groups and is calling for a change in the allocation formula. Currently, the federal government requires that 45 per cent of chairs are awarded in the natural sciences, 35 per cent in the medical sciences and 20 per cent in the social sciences and humanities.

“We’re proposing that the decision about which discipline should be awarded chairs be made by the senior academic body of each university, and not the federal government,” Czernis said.

The study also found considerable inconsistency in the management of the CRC program by host institutions, as well as in many cases a lack of proper consultation by university officials in developing the strategic plans that guided appointment decisions.

Czernis noted that while the government has commissioned various reviews of the program, these reviews failed to deal properly with key concerns expressed by academic staff.

“Because of the substantial amount of federal money spent on the CRC program, we felt there was an urgent need for an alternative review that looked more carefully at critical aspects of the first five years of the program,” she said.

The review process, which began last year, consisted of a detailed survey of academic staff associations across Canada about the program at their institutions and of a questionnaire mailed to each holder of a Canada Research Chair.