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Monthly Archives: September 2014

I am glad to have posted something to this blog this morning because Senate this afternoon was a sleeper. The meeting lasted for only one hour, without much substantive discussion.

Fall and Winter Breaks. There was discussion about changing the names of fall and winter breaks to ‘study breaks’ or ‘reading weeks’. The advocates for this think such names would better reflect that they give their students tons of extra work during those week-long breaks from classes. Apparently nothing in Senate rules or other university rules precludes this. I was appalled. People need breaks, holidays, and vacations. This is why unions lobbied so hard for weekends. Carleton has been emphasizing the importance of student’s mental health and ways of coping with stress. Therefore, I want to retain the names of these mid-term breaks, but also would like Senate to mandate that no work be assigned to students during those breaks, much like we stipulate that instructors cannot administer exams during the final two weeks of class.

Contract Instructors on Senate. A motion was put forwards to add a pair of contract instructors to Senate. The motion came from Dean John Osborne via Senate’s governance committee and was beautiful written. I fully support the motion. However, members of Senate seemed irked by who counted as a contract instructor. The original motion defined this as members of CUPE 4600 Unit 2, which maybe should have referred to members of that bargaining unit. But suggestions from the floor were to remove any reference to CUPE 4600, as though there is something dirty or unseemly about unions, and instead just say ‘contract instructors’. Rather than debate such wording on the floor of Senate, a motion was passed to return the matter to the governance committee. It would be a mistake to change the wording to simply ‘contract instructor’ because there are several ways that members of the tenure-track faculty union, CUASA, could also be contract instructors. If retired tenured faculty members come back to teach a few courses, then they do so as contract instructors, even though they are still members of CUASA. Last year when I taught a course in the Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences, administratively I did so as a contract instructor, even though what happened was Arts & Social Science bought me out of one of my Science courses. Therefore, keep some language about being in the CUPE 4600 Unit 2 bargaining unit in this change to the Senate bylaws.

Senate Finance Review committee. Senate will soon re-populate its Financial Review Committee, which was in a state of suspended animation for many years. Call for nominations to the committee and terms of reference will be coming soon. I honestly am unsure of the purpose of such a committee given the fairly well delineated roles of Senate and the Board of Governors at Carleton, the former of which deals with academic matters and the latter of which deals with financial matters.

Sorry for such a boring report, but as Rich Terfry said, “A home run every time would get boring.”

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Several faculty members in the biology department criticized my assertion in earlier blog postings regarding gender bias in hiring. Their criticisms took two forms: (1) that I provided no data showing gender bias and (2) even if data existed to support my assertion, that I failed to provide possible solutions. Several individuals even asked me to retract my assertion of gender bias, which I respectfully decline to do. You should never counteract putatively offensive speech with censorship, but instead counteract it with more speech. And, to present a balanced portrait, several biology faculty members were supportive of my views. Regardless, I maintain the belief that we have a substantial problem with gender bias in hiring faculty members at Carleton, especially in science and engineering, and thus here provide some data and a possible solution.

The biology department provides a small sample size, but still seems to show a gender bias. Since I started at Carleton in July 2006, there have been three tenure-track hires and two hires of instructors. All five individuals self-identify as male. Given that half of the population is female and roughly half the recently earned PhDs in biology are female, ceteris paribus, the probability of all five hires being male is one in 32. That could be a random effect, but seems unlikely. Of the three tenure-track hires, one was a Banting post-doc, so there were no competitive interviews of multiple candidates for his line. But for the other two tenure-track positions, the biology department interviewed a total of nine candidates, only one of which was female. Assuming, possibly erroneously, that the applicant pool had a 50:50 sex/gender ratio, the probability of choosing one or fewer women out of nine candidates is approximately one in 50 (actually, 10/512). That could be a random effect, but also seems unlikely. The biology department website lists 30 faculty members. Of these, only seven are female, i.e. less than one-quarter (but please see the first footnote). Assuming equal probability of hiring women and men, there is approximately a one in 643 million chance of seven or fewer women in a department of 30 people (see the second footnote for the formula). These sorts of statistics seem to provide a prima facie case for gender bias.

I am not complaining about the individual people that the biology department hired since 2006 or even before that. They all seem amazing. I am also not stating what the cause of this apparent gender bias is, which is possibly unconscious and not an intentional bias. Nor is a gender bias in hiring faculty members endemic to the biology department. The university’s equity services office keeps track of gender of faculty members, in a table titled “Summary Workforce Data”, which shows that Carleton does worse than average, over 10% worse than the average for other universities, for hiring women into non-management faculty positions. The problem is that some of my colleagues believe there is no gender bias at all, even after looking at the above data.

What can we do to increase representation of female faculty members in science and engineering, as well as in the rest of the university? Mary Ann Mason gives a few good ideas in her piece in Chronicles of Higher Education. One of her major recommendations was to provide better child-care. Unfortunately, Carleton’s master plan shows a new building displacing the existing child-care centre. This seems like a step backwards in terms of recruiting and retaining female faculty members.

I want to highlight one other idea for improving gender diversity of faculty, an idea that was mentioned by our distinguished guest earlier this week, the 19th prime minister of Canada, Kim Campbell, who admitted to stumbling upon this idea after first being elected as an MLA in a double-member riding in Vancouver Centre. Well, she was not talking about gender equity in academic appointments, but rather the House of Commons. But the same approach is applicable, although nobody seemed to mention the transferability of her idea after her lovely repartée with the audience on Monday. Kim Campbell’s proposal was to hire a pair of tenure-track people with each search. Interview double the usual number of people and then hire the best female and the best male candidate from that search. This means that searches would happen half as often, but that really is not a problem insofar as deans can juggle hires amongst their many units. For Kim Campbell, this translated into two-member ridings, sometimes called double member ridings, with the proviso that the two elected members must be of different genders (see footnote 3).

While I really like Kim Campbell’s idea, I should also highlight pitfalls. First, as our colleague Tom Smallwood has rightly pointed out, as undoubtedly also would Lara Karaian and Dan Irving, there are more than two genders. Second, we should not require job applicants to self-identify gender. And worse, we should not try to surmise their gender, as I very reluctantly did in the second paragraph of this posting. In fact, in “Fundamental differences between females and males?” I showed that you cannot consistently distinguish females from males, even if you forced candidates to interview naked. Also see Anne Fausto-Sterling’s discussions of intersex and many different authors discussions of trans sex/gender (e.g. Transgender 101). Third, even if there would magically (dystopian magic) be a gender dichotomy, this would not solve problems with other forms of hiring inequity, such as racial inequities, where so-called ‘at-large’ ridings are often created to water-down minority votes (see this week’s L.A. Times). Let me thus end with some questions, for which I am not entirely sure of the answers. Even if not perfect, would Kim Campbell’s proposal of hiring pairs of people help correct our seemingly obvious gender bias in faculty members? Would the benefits outweigh the costs? What can or should be done for other disadvantaged groups? Please let Carleton and me know what you think. Thanks.

Footnotes:

  1. My estimate of number of female faculty members and female job candidates is largely based on gross gender stereotypes. I did not ask human resources for gender data on these individuals. More poignantly, I did not ask these individuals for their preferred gender pronoun (PGP). I am therefore guilty of surmising gender and sincerely apologize if I have consequently insulted anybody. This is the principal reason that I did not present gender data in my previous blog postings and only do so here with great reluctance. Mea culpa.
  2. [Sum from n=0,…,7 of C(30,n)]/2^30, where C(30,n) are the number of combinations of 30 take n.
  3. I have not conducted a thorough search to see who else might have suggested this alternative of two-member ridings with one female and one male member.
  4. Thanks to many colleagues for discussions on these matters, especially faculty in biology and Melissa Haussman. While I take full blame for what is written here, they deserve most of the credit.

Science faculty board (SFB) has been frequently meeting without a quorum, but transmitting purportedly official decisions from their meetings to senate without mentioning lack of quorum. I first noticed this with undergraduate calendar changes from 19 June 2014 once the minutes of that science faculty board meeting were first distributed three months later. Such lies of omission have been pervasive, with the current dean of science personally deciding whether a quorum is necessary. The dean of science recently wrote:

Quorum is indeed always a concern, and has long been a challenge at SFB even prior to my arrival. When there have been truly major issues (e.g. closure of Integrated Science), we have deferred discussion to ensure quorum is met for those matters.

The rules for operation of science faculty board (here), which the faculty of science wrote and were approved by senate, do not give the dean any such discretion regarding quorum. The rules are unambiguous – quorum is needed for all matters, both major and minor – and imply that any decisions arrived at without a quorum never really happened. Misrepresentations to senate about quorum could not only invalidate many calendar changes, but could potentially invalidate thousands of degrees if science faculty board approved graduation lists without quorum, which I suspect sometimes happened.

We all make mistakes and oversights and usually quickly learn from them. But in this case, the office of the dean of science willfully and knowingly broke the rules that their very office created. At any time, the dean of science or his four male associate/assistant deans (Jit Bose, Bob Burk, Dwight Deugo, Edward Lai) could have changed the quorum rules for science faculty board, only needing subsequent easy ratification by science faculty board and senate. Instead the office of the dean of science opted to flout and intentionally ignore its own official quorum rule, using the undisclosed personal judgment of the dean as a crude proxy.

Senate delegates authority to faculty boards because faculty boards provide local expertise and purportedly democratic inputs into senate decisions, such as calendar changes, program changes, and recommendations for graduation. For example, individual members of senate have no real basis for gauging the validity of graduation lists, so rely on faculty boards for their recommendations. However, we now see that this supposedly democratic process in science has been a sham. It would have been bad enough had science faculty board reported decisions to senate with the caveat that there was no quorum. But things were far worse because the key piece of information regarding quorum has been intentionally withheld from senate.

Calendar changes are not minor issues, despite the current dean’s implication. Science has several core full-service departments and several boutique departments. The core full-service departments offer a large numbers of first-year and second-year ‘service’ courses. The boutique departments then rely on the core departments for most of their student’s first- and second-year courses. The core departments need adequate representation at science faculty board meetings, i.e. a quorum, in order to not be unduly foisted upon by the boutique departments. For example, the new boutique health science program designed for non-pre-med students has a three-year general degree that requires their students to take the first-year honour’s biology course, not the less heavily subscribed first-year course designed for three-year biology majors and general degree students. This seemingly absurd health science requirement needs to be redressed if it had been approved by science faculty board without a quorum.

This fiasco about repeated intentionally undisclosed lack of quorum by science faculty board begs for two sets of actions: one to correct past harms and another set looking towards the future. The future is easier to deal with. All faculty boards at Carleton decide on their own quorum rules, subject to almost trivial ratification by senate, hence the very different quorum rules across faculty boards. For the future, one possibility is for science faculty board to propose a new quorum rule. Another alternative is to get the registrar’s office to timetable science courses for eligible science faculty board members so that they all have a time-block reserved for science faculty board meetings. If needed, we can ask contract instructors to teach during the time slot designated for science faculty board meetings.

The past harms are a bit harder to deal with. First, the office of the dean of science needs to report to senate exactly which decisions were promulgated without a quorum. Second, all such decisions without quorum need to be re-visited and re-voted on by science faculty board, senate, and all relevant committees. This needs to include re-certification of graduation of science students whose degrees were approved without a science faculty board quorum. This needs to include re-votes on nominations for graduation medals. Third, intentionally withholding information about lack of quorum is sufficiently disgraceful to be worthy of official censure by senate. Effective governance requires due process – deans are not above the law, bylaws that they themselves crafted.

As always, I truly welcome your feedback. For members of senate, feel free to discuss this matter with me at this week’s senate meeting on 26 September 2014. But realize that, despite my requests, this matter is not on the official senate agenda.