York University has long prided itself on its commitment to inclusivity, diversity, social justice, and equity. This is regularly affirmed in statements from President Rhonda Lenton and was most recently reiterated in the 2015-20 University Academic Plan. Yet, in York’s most current annual Employment Equity Survey (2018), only 16 of 1,395 of members self-identified as “Black”—that is barely above 1%!
This staggeringly low number, which is well below national, provincial, and municipal availability statistics for Black Ph.D.s, is all the more shocking because York is one of the most diverse campuses in Canada and the United States. It is also situated in an equally diverse city to which many outstanding Black academics and students are drawn, precisely because of Toronto’s diversity.
In order to address the dearth of Black faculty at York, YUFA approached the Employer in the last round of bargaining (2018-19) to consider including a targeted hires program for Black faculty, a program not unlike the Indigenous Hires Program that was implemented in the Memorandum of Settlement for the 2015-18 Collective Agreement, and that was renewed in this round.
Unfortunately, York was not willing to implement YUFA’s proposal to increase Black faculty, despite York’s being in the midst of one of the largest waves of faculty hiring in recent history. The Employer would only agree to a joint task force to examine whether or not there are significant inequities with respect to the number of Black faculty at York and to make recommendations to increase the representation of Black faculty, should any meaningful inequity be demonstrated. York’s most recent Employment Equity Survey clearly shows that YUFA’s position is well-founded—there are very few Black faculty who are YUFA members at York, and thus there are far too few in whom York’s significant Black student population is able to see itself reflected.
The urgency to have targeted Black hires is not only a question of representation. It is also a question of refusing knowledge production that too often reinforces systemic and anti-Black racism that Black people in Canada and the world experience due to the legacy of chattel slavery and white supremacy. It is a question of centring the research and teaching of Black scholars across the disciplines, so that all disciplines welcome and speak to Black students. It is a means of undoing the unequal present of Black students who lack equivalent access to education, housing, resources, and health; who lack the freedom to move on campus and off due to carding policies; and who face halting institutional failures to retain the data that evidences their marginalization, all of which is a flip-side of a university that does not actively seek Black faculty.
YUFA urges the Employer not simply to arrive quickly at meaningful recommendations with YUFA on the Joint Committee for Employment Equity and Inclusivity (JCEEI), which is about to begin its work, but to act immediately upon those recommendations, once the committee has completed its work. Students, staff and faculty expect York, not merely to pride itself on equity, diversity, and inclusion, but to realize the commitment it claims is the basis for that pride! And that calls for a number of strategies: targeted hires, cluster hires, and searches that mandate that Black faculty be included on the hiring committees.