Skip to main content

Canada Canada’s universities commit to diversity with plan to make demographic data public

A lecture hall at the University of Western Ontario is pictured. Canada’s universities will collect and make public demographic data on faculty, staff and students.

Yvonne Berg/The Globe and Mail

Canada's universities will collect and make public demographic data on faculty, staff and students as part of a plan to increase the diversity and inclusion of their campus communities.

The promise is included in a five-year strategy, called the Action Plan for Inclusive Excellence, agreed to by all university presidents across the country and made public on Thursday morning.

It comes in the midst of other discussions about what postsecondary institutions must do to ensure that their top ranks are reflective of the growing diversity of the country and of even wider debates about how race, gender and ethnicity play a role in campus conflicts.

Story continues below advertisement

"We will in essence challenge ourselves by being public with our data," said Mike Mahon, the chair of Universities Canada's board of directors, the national advocacy group representing all of Canada's universities.

Lack of faculty diversity can affect studies and career aspirations

"An institution is going to say to itself, 'If this data is going to be public, we want it to look as best as it can.' It's a simple approach called self-monitoring. If we have public self-monitoring, change will happen," said Dr. Mahon, who is also president of the University of Lethbridge.

Each university already has its own system of gathering demographic information.

However, creating a national database will require them to co-ordinate, allowing comparisons across the country.

"We will be transparent and accountable, but I don't think you'll see us doing rankings and report cards," said Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada, the national lobby group representing universities that released the strategy.

Initially there had been some concern about the plan infringing on each institution's autonomy, he said, "but we want to make sure that the principles are not just a piece of paper."

Story continues below advertisement

The promise to address under-representation of some groups in areas where it may occur, whether it's the lack of Indigenous students in professional faculties or women in leadership posts, comes as universities are discussing how to meet equity targets in the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program. By Dec. 15, institutions must show that they have created action plans to increase the diversity of candidates for the talent recruitment and retention program. Canada's research granting councils fund the CRC with $265-million for 1,600 top academics every year.

But schools have consistently failed to meet equity targets set by the program's steering committee. Academics with disabilities are particularly poorly represented among CRC holders. Should universities continue to miss their targets, they have been warned by the program's directors that they will see some of the funding for the program withheld.

Discussions on the five-year strategy have occurred separately from addressing the equity goals of the CRC program.

But the strategy will help universities appoint diverse Canada Research Chairs by working to increase the pool of candidates many years before they would be eligible for such prestigious positions, Dr. Mahon said.

"We are talking about broadening the pool not only at the undergraduate level, but even at junior high school and high-school level to encourage people to aspire to university," he said. "It's a reverse funnel where we begin to broaden out these pools starting in junior high school and moving all the way through."

Many of the other points of the five-year plan are aimed at removing hiring biases or encouraging academics from under-represented groups to try for leadership posts.

Story continues below advertisement

University leaders are already taking action on some fronts, said Dawn Russell, president of St. Thomas University and a member of the University Women's Leadership Advisory Group. Two years ago, the group – made up of four female university presidents – began an effort to improve the number of female university presidents in Canada. Already, the percentage of female presidents has gone up to 25 per cent from 20 per cent, she said.

"So there is progress. We have talked to search committees about the role of a president. Do they look for things in candidates that are not going to contribute to the university community?" Dr. Russell said.

"We have talked about the role of unconscious bias. … We need to make sure that hiring practices are not barriers to hiring and promotion," she said.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter