Canadian uni prez doesn’t even make it to Day 1 of her term — gender troubles?

Today, September 1, should have been the first day on the job as Brock University president for Wendy Cukier. However, on Monday, the Canadian university dropped a bombshell — Brock and Cukier had mutually decided that she would not take up the position. So far, both sides are mum on the reasons for a move with huge costs (as they must have known) for both Brock’s and Cukier’s reputations — not to mention the costs of running another presidential search. But much of the speculation, both in the Canadian post-secondary scene and in the media, has it that the break-up is evidence of gender problems at Brock.

Here’s Globe and Mail reporter Simona Chiose’s take on the story. Predictably, an overwhelming number of contributors to the comment thread below that story are hostile to speculation that Cukier’s gender played into the shocking breakdown of her relationship with Brock.

However, there is good reason to think that the Canadian post-secondary education sector (like PSE sectors in many other countries) is not only less welcoming of women presidents but also less good at retaining them than their male counterparts when troubles emerge. Earlier this year, a group of mostly-male Canadian uni presidents agreed that the lack of senior women leaders at Canadian universities is an urgent problem.  For decades, the percentage of Canadian university presidents who are women has remained unchanged at less than 20%. Despite this, Cukier is one of a series of high profile premature departures by women university presidents in recent recollection. Put simply, we (in Canadian PSE) are bad at hiring women presidents, but we’re pretty good at letting them go.

$2905 raise for women profs at Waterloo

On Thursday, University of Waterloo (Canada) – my university – made the national news when it announced that it was giving a $2905 raise to every woman faculty member who had been employed by the University by April 30, 2015. The reason for the raise was the discovery of a campus-wide salary anomaly – on average, women faculty members make $2905 less per year than men in their cohort.

You can read what the press said about it here and here (and in a bunch of other places if you care to Google them).

The anomaly was discovered by a university working group struck in 2015 and charged with the following:

  • to investigate all cases where faculty salary inequities, including but not limited to gender-based inequities, may exist and recommend how such cases should be resolved using the Faculties’ existing anomaly funds;
  • to review the processes by which salary anomalies are currently identified and resolved in each Faculty;
  • to establish a standardized university-wide process for the detection and resolution of all faculty salary anomalies that may arise in future, wherever they may occur.

Here’s the report of the working group, and here’s a useful FAQ.

This is a good news/bad news story.

The good news:

  • The working group was struck because, in its last round of salary negotations, the faculty association asked for it. Yay! Unions work!
  • When the faculty association asked for the working group to be struck, the university agreed, with little or no resistance. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great!
  • When the working group discovered the anomaly – the correction to which would far outstrip the individual deans’ salary anomaly budgets – Waterloo VP Academic and Provost Ian Orchard volunteered without prodding to use his discretionary budget to make the adjustment right away because it’s the right thing to do. Yay! Lots of university administrators are great (redux)!
  • The working group recommended, and the senior administration has already agreed, that similar reviews occur every five years to catch any future anomalies and fix them as soon as possible if they emerge. Yay! We can learn from the past and try to do better!

Here’s some of the bad news:

  • Some women faculty think they should get back-pay too, and are disappointed that they won’t.
  • Some women hired since April 30, 2015 are frustrated that they are not included in the raise.
  • Lots of folks are frustrated that the working group just did statistical analysis without digging in to investigate the causes of any inequities.
  • And of course, many of the 326 women on campus who will receive the raise are disappointed (but probably not very surprised) to learn that they have been underpaid relative to their male colleagues.
  • The review only concerned faculty salaries; so we don’t know whether staff members (administrative support staff, food services staff, etc., etc.) are subject to a similar anomaly.

Understanding why the working group didn’t look at underlying causes helps to make sense of why it didn’t recommend back pay or redress for newer hires. Put simply, this review was a first step. It was pure statistical work to establish whether a gap exists. It was not a pay equity review per se. Indeed, while the working group was charged with checking for gendered anomalies, it was also responsible for finding individual anomalies (It found 59 individual anomalies, and another 12 cases that require further investigation by the relevant deans.). What the committee had to work with was six years of salary, demographic and annual review score data for a period ending April 30, 2015. Since the working group did not have the mandate or the expertise to investigate causes of any (then-hypothetical) gendered pay gap, it did not produce any evidential basis for back pay or for pay adjustments for faculty whose salaries were not (by reason of their start date) included in the data. (Of course, this doesn’t make the news less disappointing to women who started after April 30, 2015, some of whom by virtue of their lack of seniority are among the lowest paid faculty at the university.)

But now that we have statistically significant evidence of a gendered pay gap at Waterloo, the next step is to assemble the right team to begin to dig in and investigate causes. What are those causes likely to be? The best guess so far is that a confluence of small things add up to the nearly $3000 per faculty member gap the committee discovered. A starting pay of $500 less doesn’t take long to become a $3000 gap. Unpaid leaves of various kinds can chip away at one’s pay increases. And, due to a big shift in data management at Waterloo six years ago, we don’t have any information about faculty members’ pre-2009 salary and merit score trajectories. Surprisingly, merit scores seem to have been more or less fairly allocated (across gender, at least) for the period covered by the study. The working group found no statistically significant differences in merit scores for men and women at any rank.

So, what are the next steps?

At Waterloo, the plan is to keep doing anomaly investigations (and, if necessary, corrections) every five years, and to strike a separate working group to investigate causes. The end goal is to be in the enviable position of University of Windsor, which yesterday announced that for the first time it has no gendered wage gap.

A separate challenge, at Waterloo and elsewhere, will be to undertake similar work to ensure that non-faculty employees are also paid fairly. Most of the recent high profile cases of Canadian universities addressing gendered wage gaps have focused only on faculty wages. There is good reason to expect that the same small, subtle, unconscious forces that likely produced the Waterloo wage gap are at play among staff as well as faculty. Indeed, faculty women arguably benefit from the fact that the job of professor is typically marked as masculine whereas support staff often work jobs marked as feminine, and are hence comparatively poorly compensated. And, of course, faculty members have a lot more clout at universities and in the media than most staff members do. So it’s harder for the latter to get a hearing. It is especially good news then that in a television interview yesterday, University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur said that if the staff association asks for a similar review, they will get one.

Another big challenge relevant to many of our readers is that Waterloo’s willingness to look for and then correct a gendered pay gap is extremely rare. While stories like this one are not unheard-of at Canadian universities, there seems to be much less willingness (or capacity?) in, for instance, the U.S. college and university sector to address the pay gap. There is probably even less willingness outside of the post-secondary sector.

One lesson that folks in other places might take away from the Waterloo experience is the role that the faculty association played. Getting the university to enshrine the working group in our last faculty contract was instrumental in producing this week’s result. If you are lucky enough to work in a union workplace (or something unionesque, as we have at Waterloo), lobby your union to get the wage gap on the agenda for your next round of contract negotiations.

Progressive Rhetoric For Regressive Ends (2)

An earlier post reviewed an example of progressive rhetoric in the service of non-progressive ends. Perhaps the most striking cases of this strategy are those in which the rhetoric of women’s rights is invoked to justify precisely actions taken against women themselves. In 2011 (with Jason Kenney as Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), Canada banned the wearing of the niqab during the citizenship oath-swearing ceremony. (“Frankly, I found it bizarre that the rules allowed people to take the oath with a veil on,” Kenney explained.) When a federal court overturned that law last month, ruling that new Canadian Zunera Ishaq had the right to wear her otherwise perfectly legal religious garments during her swearing-in, the Prime Minister of Canada himself weighed in to impugn her choice. “That is not the way we do things,” Stephen Harper pronounced.

In Harper’s case the argument was initially couched in terms of an appeal to fear of secretive foreigners: “This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and I think we find that offensive. I believe, and I think most Canadians believe that it is — it is offensive that someone would hide their identity at the very moment where they are committing to join the Canadian family.” But the appeal to equality surfaced in there too, and sure enough, now even Harper’s What are you hiding? remarks are being spun as defenses of gender equality.

The optics of a group of powerful men, lawmakers and representatives, telling a woman how she may dress for a public event are already awful. They take on a jaw-slackening character when those men go on to preen for having burnished their feminist credentials so wonderfully. How could legislation forcing women of some religions or ethnicities to partially disrobe in public ceremonies, against their explicit wishes, be depicted as a blow struck for women’s rights? One answer is that respect for women’s choices has practically nothing to do with the rationale for such a law. A likelier aim is just to blow the dogwhistles harder, while hoping to confound those critics sensitive to the genuinely fraught intersectionality of practices for which considerations of culture, religion, gender, and individual choice may pull in different directions.

This is not mere conjecture; the Conservative government is convicted by its own supporting rhetoric. Current Immigration Minister Chris Alexander recently tweeted in response to the Zunera Ishaq case that the hijab – a headscarf not typically understood as covering the face – also ought not be permitted during oath-taking. Remarks like these indicate that the purpose of such a law and such rhetoric is based neither on “transparency” nor on equality, but on simple negativity towards anything identifiably Islamic. The citizenship oath becomes a ritual of compulsory renunciation and humiliation for people of different languages, cultures, religions and practices. In the way of dogwhistles more generally, dropped hints like Alexander’s are kept rare enough to avoid alienating somewhat moderate voters, but are nevertheless fodder to energize the more extremist base without whose votes, money and voluntarism the Party would be disadvantaged. Again the appeal to gender equality functions as a preemptive defense against criticisms of such calculated religious and ethnic bigotry.

Progressive Rhetoric For Regressive Ends (1)

International Women’s Day 2015 saw many professions of support for women’s rights from politicians worldwide. One of them was a tweet from Canadian politician Jason Kenney, a long-time Conservative MP, Cabinet fixture and new Defense Minister for Canada. “On #IWD2015,” wrote Kenney, “thank-you to the @CanadianForces for joining the fight against #ISIL’s campaign to enslave women & girls.” Accompanying this message was a collection of three photos: two showing women in niqabs wearing chains, and one showing a smiling middle-aged bearded man with his arm around a crying young girl – the implication plainly being one of child-marriage.

The evidence is pretty compelling that the Islamic State treats women with horrifying brutality, though Kenney has a relationship with the truth that left it no great surprise when all the images in his tweet were fake or misinformed at more than one level. The trope of particular interest in his tweet, however, is the use of progressive rhetoric in the service of non-progressive ends. In this case those ends include some combination of self-congratulation for a politically divisive military campaign launched by Kenney’s government, and anti-Islamic pandering that excites a range of emotional reactions to terrorism, Islam, and foreigners, in the run-up to a Canadian federal election.

The political strategy is reasonably clear. The use of cherry-picked examples, dogwhistles and selective emphasis to smear a target group invites charges of bigotry. These charges might be forestalled, though, if one can turn the focus to misogynistic or patriarchal aspects among (sub-groups of) the targeted population. Some people who would otherwise push back against both misogyny and racist or religious bigotry are horrified by media reports of the treatment of women under the Islamic State, and this may leave them conflicted or less motivated to criticize the anti-Islamism being played for votes here. Even if critics are not deflected, progressive noises in defense of this same-old-pandering will at least confound listless mainstream media analysis that relies on different sides to distinguish themselves through the language they choose. And it will inoculate one’s voting base against the force of the criticisms. What do you mean, the Conservatives have dismantled or slashed funding to all manner of women’s programs, and refuse even to discuss a formal inquiry into the epidemic of missing and murdered Aboriginal women in Canada? Why, they’re the ones fighting the real misogynists in this world!

Some of the most effective propaganda and media management currently on display in the Canadian context, and no doubt more widely, aims at colonizing the language of progressive causes, or at least destroying its power to differentiate between political actors.

25th anniversary of abortion rights in Canada

Next Monday, January 28 marks the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada decision overturning that country’s abortion law. For 25 years, thanks to this decision, abortion has been legal in Canada.

The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada has launched a great website to celebrate the anniversary. Check it out.

Here’s a taste:

In the 25 years since our Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion law, our country’s experience is proof that laws against abortion are unnecessary. A full generation of Canadians has lived without a law and we are better off because of it.

Canada is the first country in the world to prove that abortion care can be ethically and effectively managed as part of standard healthcare practice, without being controlled by any civil or criminal law.

Canada’s success is a role model to the world.

Canadian study: female academics still lag behind when it comes to recognition, compensation

Remember back in 2010 when Canada’s federal government awarded 19 prestigious (and lucrative!) research chairs to men and none to women? (If not, you’re probably not a Canadian woman academic.) Well, one of the upshots is a just-released 254-page report by the Council of Canadian Academies. The report arrives at some conclusions that Feminist Philosophers have known for a while: that academic women aren’t promoted, published or paid as much as their male counterparts; that childcare pressures are part of the story; and that implicit bias and stereotype threat are factors too. There’s a discussion of the report in today’s Globe and Mail.

Here’s a quote:

…subtle biases in hiring and promotions are still pervasive – often unintentionally. Women represent a third of all full-time faculty, but just 21.7 per cent of full professors in Canada. “A lot of times it’s perception in people’s head, and that’s because the perception is based on male characteristics to advance, and then women may present different characteristics,” said Catherine Mavriplis, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa who holds a national chair for women in science and engineering.

Thanks, AM and MH!

Shameless on the AGO’s unibrow stunt

To promote its special exhibit on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Toronto’s Art Gallery of Ontario has been handing out stick-on unibrows and photographing patrons wearing them. Here is a nicely trenchant response from the awesome feminist youth mag, Shameless. (It really is awesome, by the way. Consider buying subscriptions for the youths in your life!)

Here’s a taste:

I hate to be a joykill, here, AGO, but since when did celebrating an artist who challenged our ideas of feminine beauty by refusing to change the way she looked involve breaking her down through the implicit public ridicule of her appearance? Over the course of her lifetime and afterwards, Frida Kahlo’s unibrow was viewed as many things–striking, daring, odd, challenging, coy, studied, bold, memorable, and the reason why so many men fell love with her–but never as a city-wide joke. Why start now?

Thanks, LD!

McGill’s Who Needs Feminism” Blog

McGill has their own “Who Needs Feminism” tumblr up and running.
(Found this through Hook and Eye.)


The “Who Needs Feminism” campaign was started by a group of sixteen Duke University students in a Women’s Studies class. The campaign is designed to combat the negative connotations associated with the word “feminism” and to spark a discussion about why we all need it through asking people to define it for themselves.

Read More »

Femmes et Philosophie au Québec

Si votre Français est meilleur que le mein, et/ou vous habitez en Montréal ou Québec, this looks well worth getting involved with. Femmes et Philosophie au Québec, who have a Facebook page here, describe themselves as follows:

We are women and pro-feminist men in philosophy (also from psychology, cultural studies, History-society-culture interdisciplinary program, also participants from outside universities, etc.), who have formed a Salon (inspired by the format of 18th century salons in France, one of the only and last places that were feminine but in which men and women engaged in intellectual exchanges, etc.) called “Salon Femmes et philosophie”. We are from all Montréal universities but mostly meet at UQÀM.

We meet once a month, and have many really interesting and creative actions and projects planned for 2012 – to denounce the absence of women in philosophy in Québec, to promote and network between feminist philosophers, to put forward and under the noses of teachers and authorities the works of women in philosophy, to push for more feminine content in classes, and be means to each other’s ends in the individual struggles we face alone, each solo in our seminars, surrounded by men who find that “man” is a generic term, that language, sexist as it is, is fine as it is, and that women do not quite “get” the philosophical mindframe, etc. Notably, we try to bring academia’s attention toward invisible biases, glass ceilings, stereotype effects, etc. that affect the experience of women in philosophy, in academia, and as intellectual authorities in Québec.  We are aged 18 – 45, some are parents, some queer, some are activists, some are employed and we are trying to become a diverse yet resolutely pro-feminist group.

In fact, even if your French isn’t above what a Canadian friend calls “cereal box standard”, the Facebook page seems like a useful source of news and views. I like the profile picture.

Happy Persons Day!

Tomorrow is Persons Day in Canada. On October 18, 1929 the Persons Case was settled when the Privy Council in England declared that Canadian women were indeed ‘persons’ under the law and thus could be appointed to the Senate. In honour of this decision, October is declared Women’s History Month in Canada and the 18th is Persons Day. See here for more details.

the persons case
the persns case