Gender Inequity (reprise) 17 March 2015

Undisputed Facts

On 28 August 2014, I posed a question regarding gender equity of academic hires for senate question period (see here for the exact question). This question was not addressed in any form at senate until 27 February 2015. Senate convened just after 2 pm on 27 February 2015 and almost immediately went into closed session, at which point at least a half-dozen people were asked to leave the room. Once closed session finished, those people returned to the senate room for open session. One of the first orders of business at the open session, which the newly readmitted guests heard, was Carleton University’s provost, Peter Ricketts, providing a presentation on gender equity of the university’s academic staff. His presentation included eighteen slides. On 2 March 2015, I posted an in-depth blog posting (here) about the provost’s gender equity presentation. On 6 March 2015, members of senate were sent an electronic copy of the provost’s 18-slide presentation. The entire body of the e-mail promulgating the PDF file with his presentation read, “Dear Senators – attached please find the Provost’s presentation on ‘Academic Staff Hiring at Carleton University Gender Analysis 2009/10 – 2013/14’ from the Senate meeting of February 27, 2015.” That 6 March 2015 e-mail stated nothing about confidentiality of the attached file. Via e-mail, I immediately asked the following question of the senate office, “Are the provost’s slides on academic hiring public information? Given that they were presented at an open session of Senate, I assume they are public and can be shared, but I first really need to check.” Eleven days later, on 17 March 2015, I was informed in writing by the senate office that, “The Provost has confirmed that the presentation, as circulated, is for members of Senate only.” This 17 March 2015 response was the antithesis of confirmation of my 6 March 2015 e-mail query.

Arguments

First, follow this reductio ad absurdum argument. Assume the presentation slides are confidential. If I disseminate those slides, such as by attaching them to this blog posting, then I can be fired. Using identical logic, the provost, Peter Ricketts, should be fired for presenting those slides to an open session of senate. Given that Peter Ricketts still has his job, this implies the slides cannot be confidential. The only way this argument fails is if there is an ongoing effort to fire Peter Ricketts from his position at Carleton University, but that all the administrative steps have not yet been completed. Giving the university’s administration the benefit of the doubt by assuming that most unlikely of administrative scenarios, I will therefore not further disseminate the provost’s gender equity presentation slides at this juncture.

The other reason to believe that Peter Ricketts’ slide presentation to senate on gender inequity was not confidential was that the general public, the people invited back into the room after closed session ended, were allowed to see the presentation. I even used my phone to take photos of several of the slides. If any of the presentation had been confidential, those matters could have and should have dealt with during closed session. The university president and provost can easily take senate back into closed session, but declined to do so. To show slides at an open session and then deem them confidential ex post makes a mockery of open sessions and a mockery of senate. Given that the slides were not distributed electronically for a week, the provost had ample opportunity to clean up any inadvertent confidentiality gaffes. Furthermore, this presentation was six months in preparation, in response to my formal question posed on 28 August 2014, so should have been well honed and vetted.

For the aforementioned reasons, we must assume that Peter Ricketts’ gender inequity slides at the 27 March 2015 meeting, the ones distributed electronically to members of senate a week later, were NOT confidential, but were simply embargoed to save someone from embarrassment. The question remains: Who would be embarrassed by that slide presentation? In my previous blog posting, I asserted that Carleton should incur some institutional embarrassment because of our deplorable track-record of hiring female tenure-track faculty members in science and especially engineering. I also asserted that the presentation would and should be an embarrassment to the provost in that he oversees academic hiring. Even more deplorable, the provost’s dissembling with statistics was something that we would fail our undergraduate students for doing in one of their class presentations. The provost’s presentation, if it were made public, would probably disqualify Peter Ricketts from being a provost at any college or university, including Carleton (imagine if a head-hunter got a hold of those slides). But that is a poor reason to mandate that a document shown by upper administration in open session of university senate be deemed confidential long after the fact, i.e. a poor reason for the provost to close the barn door after he deliberately let the horses out.

Recommendations

While the provost either willfully or negligently failed to answer my 28 August 2014 query for senate question period, at least he presented some gender equity data at the 27 February 2015 open session of senate. That is an important start regarding gender inequity, which is a sufficiently important policy issue that most students, staff, faculty, and alumni should be engaged. Now let’s share that data with the entire Carleton community, i.e. the real community at-large. Then let’s get Carleton University to actually answer the gender inequity questions that I originally posed over a half-year ago. Let’s start an important open policy discussion that revolves around data. Suppressing data, as was just done with the senate gender equity presentation, looks simply like Carleton has something to hide. In the long-run, treating data confidentiality like a yo-yo can only hurt Carleton University’s policies and reputation.

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