The murders of George Floyd, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, D’Andre Cambell, Chantal Moore, Rodney Levi and others at the hands of the police have brought to the forefront once again the systemic racism against Black and Indigenous people in North America. We are seeing a global uprising around Black Lives Matter and against police brutality. There are massive and worldwide protests, and we know that we must take advantage of the rage and the momentum of this moment in history to effect real change to end racism in all its forms. I am writing today on behalf of the recently formed Student, Staff and Faculty Alliance (SSFA) representing 20 unions and associations and more than 20,000 people at universities and colleges across the province. It is necessary to address the racism and inequality that continues to exist on our campuses and we write to offer some ways to move forward to create a more just and equitable society.
Data published in a recent report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) presents a dismal picture of the continued lack of diversity among our college and university faculty (https://www.caut.ca/sites/default/files/caut_equity_report_2018-04final.pdf). It shows that racialized and Indigenous people are both underrepresented and underpaid. For example: Black university professors represent only 2% of university professors while Black workers represent 3.1% of the labour force in general. Indigenous academics remain significantly underrepresented in the academy, making up just 1.4% of all university professors and 3% of college instructors, while they constitute 3.8% of the total work force. Racialized women academics are the most discriminated against group within post-secondary education, suffering from higher rates of unemployment and making only 68 cents for every dollar their white, male counterparts earn. Black and Indigenous students from Nova Scotia and the rest of Canada are underrepresented as well. We all agree this has to change.
Yet, as universities across the province issue statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, the actions do not seem to match the words. Post-secondary institutions have suffered chronic underfunding for decades, resulting in significant increases in tuition fees, and significantly lower numbers of full-time faculty and tenure-track hires. This disproportionately affects Black, racialized and Indigenous peoples. High fees keep out the most marginalized students, and faculty of colour are most likely to be sessional and part-time faculty. The loss of 100 part-time teaching contracts at Mount Saint Vincent University is a prime example, as those employment contracts affect racialized teachers and lab instructors and others who are precariously employed. Other universities are making similar cuts including “voluntary” layoffs to non-unionized employees at Cape Breton University and St. FX University.
We call on university administrations to take a tangible stand against racism by increasing accessibility to post-secondary education for Black and Indigenous students with an immediate reduction in tuition fees and increase in bursaries, by creating systems of support for Black and Indigenous students, by improving the working conditions of contract academic staff, which often include racialized people, by developing anti-racist action plans, with time lines, that include steps like: hiring Black and Indigenous tenured faculty and senior administrators, encouraging the inclusion of Black and Indigenous content in syllabi and curriculum, and by including dedicated spots for Black and Indigenous members on Boards of Governors. Universities have a role to play in tackling racism in our society, but unless institutions address their structural white supremacy, we will only continue to perpetuate it.
Scott Stewart, Chair
Students, Staff and Faculty Alliance (SSFA)