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CAUT Bulletin Archives

February 2010

Higher Education’s Equity Disconnect

By Matthias Bierenstiel
Whose University Is It, Anyway? Power and Privilege on Gendered Terrain, Anne Wagner, Sandra Acker & Kimine Mayuzumi, eds. Toronto, ON: Sumach Press, 2008; 265 pp; ISBN: 978-1-89454-975-2, paper $28.95 CA
The academic bodies at Canadian universities have traditionally been dominated by white males maintaining their ivory tower privileges. This historical structure has been challenged over the past decades by the arrival of a more diverse student body and resulted in a slowly diversifying faculty body.

Yet, inequalities persist, whether overtly or covertly, in a period when equity policies have become commonplace.

This collection of 14 first-hand perspectives “on gendered terrain” speaks to the many challenges that remain for women, and some men, as they live their university lives around gendered, racialized and classed identities, and examines the contemporary academic body with its divers gender spectrum and orientations, pedagogical issues, support systems and reaffirmation of strengths.

While the authors focus on gender, each interpolates a different identity viewpoint to the topics covered and allows the reader a wider perspective on how other factors such as race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity further compound the risk of exclusion and marginalization.

Contributors include students, teaching assistants, administrative staff, contingent faculty, tenured/tenure-track faculty and administrators. They describe how both power and the social organization of academic life advantage and disadvantage certain groups.

For example, the first chapter underscores the reality of Aboriginal women, and is tellingly summed up in the chapter’s title, “I don’t know what hurts more — to shut up or speak up.” Chapters eight and nine explore the role of teaching assistants and administrative staff, whose contributions are often overlooked despite their close working relationships with both faculty and students. Chapter 11 on being a “chair/woman” describes how the emotional quality of academic managing has been greatly underestimated.

The editors’ introduction and chapter endnotes provide a historical overview of the educational literature on gender equity issues and positions it in today’s times.

Apart from the audience of scholars and researchers in the field of gender studies, Whose University Is It, Anyway? informs on diversity in Canadian higher education for a general readership, and provides a pro­vo­cative and insightful basis to engage and continue the evolving discourse.

Matthias Bierenstiel is a chemistry professor at Cape Breton University in Nova Scotia.