Dorothy Chang began playing the piano at a young age and started composing music soon afterward. Now she has many music awards under her belt, as well as more than seven years of university-level teaching experience at Indiana University and Indiana State University.
So the American was caught off guard when her appointment to the University of British Columbia last summer struck such a discordant note.
Critics say qualified Canadians and permanent residents were cheated out of the job as the university attempts to enhance its reputation with international hires.
University officials from across the country don't see it that way. They are on the hunt for top scholars to lead their students in a competitive global economy, and this sometimes means going outside Canadian borders.
In hiring Prof. Chang as an assistant professor in composition, officials at UBC's school of music say they were not only bringing to this country a talented musician and teacher who has earned a doctoral degree in musical arts, but also repatriating her husband, who was born in Toronto and raised in Halifax.
"We had a very fair and very thorough look at every single person who applied," said Jesse Read, director of the music department at UBC. "She was the one who the committee felt would be the best person to fit the requirements of the job."
Prof. Chang has tried to stay away from all the chatter. "My knowledge of the controversy is very limited. I have not been informed of the details, and my welcome at UBC has been very warm," she said in an e-mail.
But academics and composers who applied for the position are not sitting quiet. Neither is Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, who says he hears "fairly consistently" about Canadians and permanent residents being shut out of jobs.
A small but growing group of academics is speaking out, saying the federal government has made it easier for universities to work around a rule that allows schools to deem a Canadian or permanent resident unqualified and then hire a foreign scholar.
Vancouver-based composer Rodney Sharman, for example, has an impressive résumé, which includes a PhD and teaching experience at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., and at UBC. He's sat on international juries and has been a composer in residence for the Vancouver Symphony.
But he was rejected for the position at UBC, and didn't even get an interview.
Prof. Chang is "eminently qualified," Mr. Sharman said.
Yet, he added: "Certainly there are many qualified and gifted Canadians in music composition who applied for that position and were turned down."
Figures from some of the country's top schools show an increasing trend of foreign academics coming on board as universities increase hiring.
At UBC, about 40 per cent of 188 hires in the 2002-03 academic year were foreign academics. In the 1996-97 academic year, it was 23 per cent of 80 new hires.
At McGill University, more than half of its new hires so far --31 out of 51 -- this year are international scholars. Ten years ago, the university hired eight foreign academics out of its 35 new appointments. In providing the figures, the university noted that this does not account for dual citizenship.
At the University of Toronto, almost 50 per cent of the 110 people hired in 2002-03 were foreign academics. This compares with 31 per cent of the roughly 100 people hired in 1999-2000.
Vivek Goel, acting provost at the U of T, stood by the numbers.
"If we want to compete in a truly international sense, in the quality of the research and the quality of education that we're going to be offering, we are going to be hiring people both in Canada and abroad," he said. "And in many disciplines, part of the whole thing in academia is being able to get different ideas from different places."
Anthony Masi, deputy provost at McGill University in Montreal, said, "We really do aim to hire the best people."
At McGill, a controversy similar to that at UBC has been brewing since the music department hired two academics from U.S. colleges over top Canadian candidates.
Don McLean, dean of the faculty of music, said this doesn't mean Canadians were overlooked: It's a matter of hiring people who can work best with other professors and move the department forward.
"I don't worry about Canadians coming to the fore. I just hired a Canadian in music theory, and he won hands down," Prof. McLean said.
Canadian universities have hired an unprecedented number of foreign academics in the past five years, drawing criticism from homespun graduates.
McGill University; 61% for 2004
University of Toronto; 49% for 2003
U.B.C.; 38% for 2003
From July,1999, to June, 2003, the University of Alberta hired 399 new faculty. Of those, 121 were foreign, or 30 per cent.
Note: Foreign academic figures do not include those with dual Canadian citizenship