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Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario . (Handout)
Laurentian University in Sudbury, Ontario . (Handout)

Laurentian University under fire for hiring of aboriginal professor Add to ...

Laurentian University overrode the decision of a faculty committee when it hired an aboriginal candidate for a job as a geography professor, says a report from Canada’s national faculty association, which criticizes the school for multiple violations of academic freedom.

Among the issues identified in the report is the process that led to the hiring of a new professor in the geography department.

The candidate had not finished her PhD and she was rejected by the hiring committee. The university offered the person the position anyway.

The Sudbury school has an initiative to help emerging aboriginal scholars get hired in probationary faculty jobs while they finish their doctorates.

That process, called the aboriginal equity initiative, was at the centre of the dispute, said David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT).

“Initially the university said it was not conducting a hiring through that process, but once [a] consultant had whittled the hiring down to one candidate, it then invoked the aboriginal equity initiative,” Dr. Robinson said.

Laurentian president Dominic Giroux said he could not comment on the specifics of any case, but that the issue had been discussed and resolved through the university’s faculty association. “There were broader circumstances to that issue,” he said. Laurentian did not co-operate with the CAUT report.

The university, he added, was proud of the “critical mass” of 24 indigenous scholars at Laurentian, a number that is twice the 2009 total. “They are in a range of departments, we have indigenous faculty in English, in architecture, in history,” he said.

Still, the case raises questions about how Canadian universities will fulfill the promises many have made to raise the number of aboriginal professors. Experts say that it can be difficult to change the makeup of a work force and always keep the confidence of current employees and managers.

“If you’re working toward creating a representative work force, you’re likely not going to be able to hire exactly who your current population wants,” said Douglas Pople, the career and placement officer at Manitoba’s Brandon University and an expert on recruiting aboriginal employees. “A lot of hiring is done from the current work force and if you have a homogeneous population, how do you get diversity?”

One of the keys is to broaden the pool of applicants. That is initially what happened at Laurentian. The university hired an aboriginal consultant who outlined 126 possible candidates worldwide, out of which 39 applied for the job.

But the hiring committee did not see everyone’s résumés and received scant information about two candidates, both aboriginal. They interviewed only one candidate, the CAUT report says.

“We have no problem with hiring a consultant to identify potential applicants,” Dr. Robinson said. “The problem arose when the consultant took it upon themselves to come back and say, ‘Here is the one person I am recommending,’ and that circumvented the traditional hiring procedures in university,” Dr. Robinson said.

The person was offered the job over the committee’s objection. Sometimes, however, people may not get a job – not because they aren’t capable, but because the requirements of a position are based on the people who’ve held it before, Mr. Pople said. “The landscape is littered with examples of systemic discrimination,” he said.

Members of the geography department, including some who had been on the hiring committee, were then asked to pledge in writing that they would work co-operatively with the new hire.

“It’s so important to work through the situation,” said Mr. Pople, who is Metis and works with many native students to prepare them for the job market. Though he did not comment on the Laurentian case, he said any employer must ensure a new employee faces a positive climate.

“If they’ve been made to hire that individual, do you think they will be met with a warm and fuzzy treatment, or are they going to go into an environment that is going to be so hostile that they won’t be able to stay?”

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