Tenure? I hardly know her !
Author: Agnes Macphail
Deeply buried behind walls of bureaucratese, far into performance evaluations, way back on page 80 of the university’s annual performance report, there is a simple graph presenting the dirtiest little secret of the university: Faculty Appointments by gender: Male, 74%; Female, 26%. 26% of all faculty at UW are female, the lowest in the U15, a group of top Canadian universities the school likes to compare itself to. Dalhousie comes first, with 40% of its faculty being female.
On a faculty level the unbalance is even clearer. Environment hired no women in 2011. Only 16% of all Engineering professors are women - and only 19% in Math.
Drilling down further, the numbers get worse. Only 16% Full Professors, the highest level an academic can reach, are women. Associate Professors, the rank below, are only 27% women - and Associates are not guaranteed promotion. But surely that’s just due to lag in the system?
Wrong. Only 33% of new hires in 2013 were women. And that was a good year. In 2010 only 22% of new hires were women. The average for the past five years has been just less than 30%. Women will be a minority voice in the faculty club for many years to come.
This matters because tenured Professors are intellectual leaders, researchers and teachers who influence and impact present perspectives, and shape it for whole generations of students. Tenured Professors approve research funding, decide which topics graduate students pursue, and determine which ideas undergraduates are taught. They have a stage in which they can expound their perspective, their theories, their world views.
The problem lies in the fact that men, by virtue of being men and having lived a male experience, will teach from the male perspective. Their life experience will shape their world view, the ideas they find interesting, the projects they approve and the ideas they teach.
This is not is not inherently bad - the problem lies in the lack of counter experience. A university is a place of learning, research, debate and critical thinking. Shouldn’t our university enjoy and explore more than one perspective?
Further, what type of message does it send that the only Mathematics faculty in the country, one of the best math faculties in world, has only 19% female faculty?
No girls allowed in this tree house, it says to me. And we wonder why women don’t show interest in computers.
Students can help. Give your female professors rave reviews. If she is coming up for tenure review, make it clear you appreciate and value her perspective. Write letters to her department head or the tenure board talking about her value as a researcher and educator.
Call your male professors out on their bullshit. Does he always use gendered pronouns for ’engineer’ or ’scientist’ or ’programmer’? Does he wisecrack about the mental skills of the different genders? Complain to the department head. Approach him after class and say “this is not acceptable”.
Because the low level of acceptance of women by our faculty is not acceptable. If Waterloo is to ever become the top-notch university it pretends to be, it had better stop ignoring half of the population.
Female full-time faculty:
Figures are from the University of Waterloo, “Annual Performance Indicators”, 2012, and may not indicate current numbers.
Note: Agnes Macphail was the first woman elected to the Canadian House of Commons, and one of the first two women elected on the Ontario Legislature. A tireless activist, she fought for social justice throughout her career as a parliamentarian and journalist. She is currently in 3B Combinatorics and Optimization.