As I’ve mentioned on twitter, myself and my research team have been working very hard to develop an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) research and engagement statement. It is not hard to imagine that such statements will become as ubiquitous as Teaching Philosophies, and rightfully so. Further, given that the academy, especially economics, suffers from a real lack of diversity, especially among Black and Indigenous scholars we need not only top down strategies, but bottom up action as well.
As a result, we have been expanding our reading about racism in higher education because understanding the barriers is important to being able to work to overcome these barriers as part of our own statement. We do not want a meaningless statement, we want to develop something meaningful, actionable, measurable, and rested in evidence. As part of this work, I recently came across an article that was published in Workplace. As detailed on their website:
“Workplace is a refereed, open access journal published by the Institute for Critical Education Studies (ICES) and a collective of scholars in critical university studies, or critical higher education, promoting dignity and integrity in academic work. Contributions are aimed at higher education workplace scholar-activism and dialogue on all issues of academic labor.”
The article I found is titled “Higher Racism: The Case of the University of British Columbia—On the Wrong Side of History but Right Side of Optics.” I will summarize the article here as there are some really important lessons from this case study, not only for my own purposes, but for what we are trying to achieve overall, which is increasing diversity and inclusion at academic institutions writ large. Again this is a summary of the article, but I encourage you to read it.
Before I start, I will provide a side bar on academic freedom. I am doing this because academic freedom becomes an important theme in the outcome of this case study. Many who are unfamiliar with academic freedom, which oddly includes a lot of staff who work at academic institutions, it is important to remember, as many forget, that academic freedom includes the ability to express one’s opinion about the institution, its administration, and system in which one works. This is generally outlined by the Canadian Association of University Teachers and specifically outlined at UBC. However, since that is often trampled, a work around is to publish these expressions which seems to be how this article came about.
The paper begins by outlining that academic institutions, faculties, and all department/schools/faculty members have to confront the fact that our industry is and members of it are racist. Time is over for task forces, working groups, etc and to openly critique the mismanagement that led to the lack of diversity.
It then outlines in detail that UBC, despite having plan after plan on diversity, ended up reappointing a number of non-racially diverse Deans without attention to representation, working against the plan to achieve the results in the many plans that existed. The paper includes a screen shot of the leadership of UBC which was an announcement of the new Deans, demonstrating that lack of diversity in the decanal ranks at UBC despite, again, plans to the contrary.
Feeling that this was contrary to all the existing plans (or paying lip service) working to achieve diversity, the paper details internal actions taken by faculty at UBC to challenge this outcome to no avail, except to appoint a Senior Advisor to the Provost on Racialized faculty. These actions then turned external (see note on academic freedom). When criticism went external, UBC managers became very hostile to faculty using their rights under academic freedom, and began to exercise both direct and indirect forms of censorship, including hiding under the guise of “respect in the workplace.”
The paper concludes by noting this case study shows the way in which the higher racism of managers works to maintain individual and systemic racism and how managers shield themselves from criticism.
This is a really interesting case study in how bottom up action to push the University to meaningfully move on meeting its EDI statements lead to the managers using other policies to attempt to curtail academic freedom being able to challenge the institution, the leadership of the institution, and the managers therein on meeting EDI objectives. It is also very concerning to see staff at a university to use the notion of respect in the workplace as trumping academic freedom, especially on such an important topic as EDI.
I would certainly be interested in hearing views on this case study, the issues raised, and the outcome of this case, given that those of us at other academic institutions could face similar actions in the face of pushing for diversity and inclusion in very non-diverse disciplines, departments, faculties, and institutions.
Addendum: In picking away further at this, I found a blog post that also resonates: “As a serving member of the UBC Board of Governors I observed how power was deployed through the fulcrum of civility. Public ‘niceness’ hid what could best be called backroom verbal brawls and artful displays of institutional power. When those of us elected dissidents spoke out in public the push back was intense. But, it was not framed around what was said, only how it was said. Our tone, our gender, our assertiveness was called out. The acts of dismissal, overt and explicit subterfuge of management was ignored. We have arrived at a moment in time were the form of communication displaces the value of content. I hasten to add I am all for civility, but there are moments when academic freedom does trump niceness. The problem is when management and their allies control what is nice, dissidents will almost always lose.”