More action needed to combat discrimination on campus: Report
(Ottawa – December 15, 2006) An independent committee of inquiry looking into allegations of discrimination at the University of Toronto has concluded that universities and colleges must do more to promote diversity and equality.
While a settlement has been reached in the dispute between Dr. Kin-Yip Chun and the University of Toronto, the committee’s report concludes there are important lessons to be learned for all post-secondary institutions.
“[U]niversities have a responsibility not only to eliminate discriminatory conduct, but also to take positive steps to promote equality,” the report states. “We urge universities to expand their efforts to identify barriers to equality at earlier stages of the educational process and to identify mechanisms to correct such inequities.”
The committee, established in 2003 by the Canadian Association of University Teachers but operating independently, was asked to investigate allegations of discrimination and harassment against Dr. Chun, a research associate in the Department of Physics at the University of Toronto. After being turned down on two occasions for a permanent position with the department, Dr. Chun began to express concerns about unequal treatment. After unsuccessful third and fourth competitions, Dr. Chun alleged that he was a victim of systemic discrimination.
After reviewing the facts, the committee concluded there were “serious irregularities” in the hiring process in each case and that Dr. Chun was treated unfairly.
The committee of inquiry also found that after Dr. Chun had made allegations of systemic discrimination, he was subject to various forms of harassment and unfair treatment. He was prevented from attending departmental meetings, denied a faculty library card, frustrated from pursuing his research, and prohibited from teaching courses. These actions constituted a serious violation of Dr. Chun’s academic freedom.
“Academic freedom, in our opinion, is hindered not only by prohibitions on the expression of particular views, but by limitations on the opportunity to exchange views and to have access to the views of others. The physical and social isolation of Prof. Chun within the department obviously deterred such exchanges of views.”
In assessing the broader implications of the case, the committee recommends that universities and colleges adopt more effective affirmative action hiring policies, that decision-makers have training about racial discrimination, and that all institutions have in place a fair, accessible and quick internal dispute resolution process to deal with complaints that arise.
“[W]ays must be found to resolve such disputes in a manner that is less damaging to all concerned. We hope that our factual findings will help identify missteps that could be avoided in the future.”
The members of the independent committee of inquire were: Constance Backhouse, Distinguished University Professor and University Research Chair at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa; Nobel Laureate Philip W. Anderson, Professor of Physics at Princeton University; and William Black, Professor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia.