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Indigenous employment at U of T

Examining Indigenous recruitment, supports, challenges

Indigenous employment at U of T

Just over two years ago, U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee released the “Wecheehetowin” report, which contained 34 calls to action that the university should undertake to engage in Canada’s ongoing process of reconciliation with Indigenous people. Eleven of these calls relate to Indigenous faculty and staff — including “significant” increases to recruitment, greater support networks, and increased community-based research. The report was presented to U of T President Meric Gertler and Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr, who both spoke of the opportunity to work toward change. But now, some 26 months later, how much progress has been made to change the university’s Indigenous faculty and staff policies, and what does U of T still have planned?

Increasing Indigenous employee representation

Out of the 8,897 U of T employees surveyed, 74 self-identify as Indigenous, representing 0.83 per cent of workers. This is according to the 2017–2018 employment equity report, a summary of employee responses to a survey as of July 31, 2018. These 8,897 responses represent 81 per cent of total eligible respondents. Of the 74 Indigenous employees represented, 56 are staff and 18 are faculty and librarians.

By contrast, Statistics Canada’s 2016 census reported that just under five per cent of Canadians self-identify as Indigenous.

Last year’s 2016–2017 employment equity report, the first after the release of “Wecheehetowin,” showed that there were 59 self-identified Indigenous employees — 49 staff and 10 faculty and librarians. In comparison to previous years’ employment equity reports, the 74 Indigenous employees currently at U of T is the highest number the university has reported since 2005, when 88 out of 6,720 employees self-identified as “Aboriginal Persons.”

One of the Steering Committee’s calls was for the university to make targeted funds available to increase Indigenous hires. The university subsequently dedicated a base $2.5 million of its 2017–2018 budget for hiring of 20 faculty and 20 staff positions. The fund covers 50 per cent of new hires’ starting salaries and benefits. According to the budget, the funds “will be held in a central pool until positions are filled, allowing for maximum flexibility in [which divisions] the hires are made.”

This funding commitment is also represented in the recent 2019–2020 budget through a $1.5 million allocation to the third phase of the Diversity in Academic Hiring fund. This allocation will support the hiring of 20 Black and Indigenous faculty; portions of the previous phases have provided funding to support hiring 20 Indigenous faculty and 20 Indigenous staff.

Part of the increase in self-reported Indigenous employees this year comes from 11 new hires, although four ended their U of T employment. In 2016–2017, the university had seven new hires and six exits.

Indigenous employment at other universities

While the latest available data from Ryerson University and York University are both less comprehensive than U of T’s data, they reveal that U of T has a greater number of Indigenous employees. Ryerson’s most recent report is from 2016, which states that one per cent of “close to 6,000 employees” self-identified as Indigenous. However, according to a 2017 Eyeopener article, the number may be as high as 90 Indigenous employees, five of whom are tenure-track faculty. At York, approximately one per cent of 3,980 employees self-identified as Indigenous — likely representing between 38 and 41 employees. OCAD University is collecting representation data but has not publicly released its findings.

Looking more broadly at U of T’s main competitors in Canada, McGill University reported in 2017 that 22 of 4,830 employees, or 0.5 per cent, self-identified as “Aboriginal.” The University of British Columbia reported in 2016 that 137 out of 9,596 employees, or 1.4 per cent, self-identified as Indigenous.

Indigenous Elder support

Two of the calls to action regarding faculty and staff relate to increasing support of university Elders and the Elders Circle, which consists of Elders and traditional teachers. “Wecheehetowin” emphasizes “the importance of Elders in achieving reconciliation.” It adds that the four Elders at the university are “unsurprisingly ‘overextended in terms of their commitments’, leaving a significant amount of unmet need in terms of those wishing to benefit from the guidance offered by Elders.”

The report calls on the university to either hire these four Elders on a full-time basis or to provide opportunities for more Elders to become involved with the university in order to support students and employees. It also includes calls to increase allocated space for Indigenous activities. Part of this has been addressed with UTSC hiring Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Juanita Muise in August. Muise’s role is to engage with employees and students to connect with Indigenous programming and culture.

However, in conversation with The Varsity in November, Muise said that the space available to UTSC Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips is insufficient. She said, “They keep saying [that] in two years we’re going to have a First Nations House here, on this campus. We can’t wait two years. It’s not fair to our students that are here now. Everybody deserves to have a space.”

Networking and outreach

Another “Wecheehetowin” call to action regarding employees is to “seek out additional ways to encourage and facilitate networking opportunities for Indigenous faculty and Indigenous staff.”

Among U of T’s initiatives is Indigenous Mentoring Day, a tri-campus biannual event that connects Indigenous job-seekers with U of T mentors based on their career interests. According to university spokesperson Elizabeth Church, since the first Indigenous Mentoring Day in April 2018, “46 U of T faculty and staff members have signed up to mentor individuals interested in working at the University.” These job-seekers shadow their mentors for a day and are then entered into U of T’s list for future career opportunities.

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, the co-chair of the “Wecheehetowin” report, was named the first Director of Indigenous Initiatives in April 2017. According to Church, “he is working on a range of initiatives including advising on a strategy to boost student recruitment in fields with traditionally low Indigenous representation… and [advising] on increasing Indigenous spaces on our three campuses.”

Given the recently announced $88 million shortage to the university’s previously projected 2019–2020 expenditure ability, U of T’s budget notes that the plan to hire 51 additional faculty may be delayed, potentially impacting prospective Indigenous hires. Church told The Varsity that “any decisions to delay hiring for those positions would be made by the academic divisions based on their divisional academic priorities and resources.”

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes says U of T is Canada’s second-best employer, but how close is that to the truth?

What’s it like to work for U of T?

Forbes recently ranked U of T as the second-best employer in Canada, “a mere fraction of a point” short of Google. One year ago, U of T was ranked 63rd. What’s changed between then and now to justify the 61-spot jump? And do the experiences of employees at U of T measure up?

Beyond the rankings

U of T employs over 20,000 people across all three campuses, including groundskeepers, graphic designers, and financial service analysts with the University of Toronto Asset Management corporation, and library technicians who support the library facilities that students and researchers rely on.

The next highest-ranked Canadian postsecondary institution in Forbes’ employee satisfaction list is the fifth-place Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, followed by Montréal’s Concordia University in eighth place.

But Forbes seems to be inconsistent in how it rates universities, since U of T is not the only workplace to have made big jumps. In 2017, Queen’s University took home the number one spot, yet it is now ranked well below U of T as the 17th best employer in Canada. The University of Guelph was sixth in 2016, but now finds itself 61st.

This result may be due to the methodology employed: Forbes surveyed 8,000 Canadians working at companies with over 500 employees across the nation. There seems to be no guarantee of proportional distribution across companies, hence the dramatic shift in U of T’s position might be due to an underrepresentation of the university’s employees last year, or an overabundance of responses this year.

In the end, the real stakeholders are flesh-and-blood employees, and it’s the policies that U of T has in place that truly determine how it compares as an employer. While there is ambiguity about Forbes’ data collection methods, its rankings provide a good opportunity to look at what U of T does for its tens of thousands of employees.

Tuition waivers

Kelly Hannah-Moffat, Vice-President Human Resources and Equity (HR&E) believes that U of T’s jump in the rankings is partly due to Forbes having a better understanding of the university’s employment standards. “They got a more fulsome understanding of all of the things going on, and our… continuous efforts to improve, and to ensure that we have meaningful benefits, meaningful programs, flexible work — all of the things that we’re doing every single year to make sure that we’re a good inclusive environment to work in.”

Benefits make up a large part of what U of T offers its employees. Chief among these is the university’s tuition waiver scheme, which allows full-time staff to take courses at the undergraduate and master’s level on the university’s dime.

U of T is not the only university to offer such a scheme, but its details are generous compared to peer institutions in Canada. Staff can take up to three fall or winter undergraduate courses, compared to staff at the University of Waterloo, for example, who can take a maximum of two courses using tuition waivers.

Tuition waivers can also be applied to dependents of the staff. According to the tuition waiver request form for dependents, the proportion of tuition exempted depends on “the staff member employment date; percentage of employment; and the eligibility of the program of study.” Kazi Arif, a University College Food Services employee since 2005, has taken advantage of this support: his son completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Engineering at UTSG through a tuition waiver. Arif received the full amount of his son’s tuition.

Pension plan

Speaking to job benefits more broadly, Arif said, “U of T has a good pension plan. All other facilities are better than any other job.”

Retirement packages differ by role, but for Professional & Managerial Staff, any employee with at least 15 years of service can receive a reduced workload in the year leading up to their retirement, while their pensions accrue at full-time rates.

“[The retirement scheme] allows us to have knowledge transferred with the employee who is departing and with somebody else who might be coming into the unit,” said Hannah-Moffat.

Pension amounts also differ by role. The precise amount is a function of the number of years of service, the annual average of the highest 36 months of salaried work, and a maximum pension amount set by the government, currently held at $57,400.

Pensions increase annually to account for inflation. For Professional & Managerial Staff who have worked at U of T for a year and who are over 35, enrolment in the pension plan is mandatory.

The pension plan is conferrable onto an employee’s spouse and dependents in the event of their death.

At the other end of the employee spectrum are people like Sarah Stiller, a library technician at Kelly Library. This is her first full-time job since she graduated from Seneca College. At this stage in her career, she has relatively few complaints about working at U of T; the hours and pay are good, and while retiring at U of T isn’t an ambition, she said that the health plan is good for her needs.

Positive feedback from different age groups of employees is a sign of a healthy workplace that delivers on the various needs of its staff, such as childcare and professional development. But with thousands of employees distributed across three campuses and 21 different bargaining units representing them, gleaning an overall pattern of employee satisfaction at U of T just isn’t possible without access to comprehensive survey data.

Surveys and equity in the workplace

HR&E conducts a number of surveys with faculty and staff to gain a picture of the U of T workplace environment. In 2014, the Speaking Up survey went out to faculty, staff, and librarians. The results went on to inform specific workplace issues that the university is looking to improve on — what HR&E calls its “areas of focus,” which include equity and diversity.

According to Hannah-Moffat, the university makes a big commitment toward being a diverse and inclusive workplace. “Excellence is diversity and diversity is excellence. The two are just not separable.”

There is particular stress placed on the representation of Black and Indigenous employees in the university. The latest HR&E Employment Equity Report, released in November, is an anonymized summation of a voluntary questionnaire that had been sent to all active employees. This year, 81 per cent, or 8,897 employees, responded.

Only two per cent of faculty and librarians and six per cent of staff self-identified as Black, and only one per cent each of faculty and librarians and staff self-identified as Indigenous. Overall, 19 per cent of faculty and librarians and 33 per cent of staff indicated that they were people of colour.

In response to this survey as well as a call to action from Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee, the university has committed $2.5 million to the hiring of 20 new staff and faculty members each who come from Indigenous backgrounds. Strategic recruitment practices by which the university actively reaches out to communities in search of excellent candidates are ongoing, according to Hannah-Moffat.

The Varsity has learned that the Office of Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, is currently conducting a Workplace Culture and Professional Development Review of the Division of Student Life at UTSG, following an external review of the division last year. Student Life incorporates services such as Academic Services, Hart House, and Health & Wellness. In a memo describing the review, Welsh wrote that the survey was motivated by the university’s “collective desire to foster an inclusive and diverse working environment.” It is being conducted by Toronto-based law firm Rubin Thomlinson LLP.

Confidential interviews will occur throughout March as part of the survey.

U of T did not respond to questions about whether the survey results would be made publicly available. However, in line with the university’s commitment to promoting diversity and equity, the survey results should be made available to Student Life employees, if not to the general public.

Employees have the right to know what their peers say about their working environments. Students should also be informed about the working conditions of their university’s employees. After all, Welsh said that these employees’ “passion for [their] work and enriching the student experience is unmistakable.”

Interview requests with Campus Police constables were denied by the university.

A closer look into the ‘80,000 Ontario jobs lost’ report

Readers need to interpret data beyond the headlines, especially to prevent its use as a political football

A closer look into the ‘80,000 Ontario jobs lost’ report

On September 7, Statistics Canada released its monthly labour report. Soon after, the media was flooded with the same headline: Ontario loses 80,000 jobs in August. Politicians then rose to action, sparking a quickfire blame game across Queen’s Park. But did Ontario’s economy really come to a sudden slowdown? While the data seems alarming, it does not give a clear enough picture. To make sense of all of this noise, we need more than just a single number.

For starters, many experts are still mystified by the data, providing only a host of speculations. In a Global News article, U of T Economics Professor Angelo Melino attributed the drop to a change in the sample size of the survey.

On the other hand, U of T History Professor Christo Aivalis admitted that the cause of job losses is “unclear,” telling CBC that it is “difficult to say why (job losses) would be happening.” However, Aivalis was not quick, as some may be, to lay blame on the minimum wage hike at the beginning of this year.

According to him, job growth was already slow before the wage hike took effect. His stance is supported by low unemployment, which some experts like Royal Bank of Canada economist Josh Nye also see as a sign that the wage hike is not an economic foe.

Although the cause of this job loss may be unknown, the labour report does provide insight into the most impacted sectors. Major shrinkages occurred in two sectors: from July to August, 71,500 jobs were lost in the services sector and 8,600 jobs were lost in the goods-producing sector on a month-to-month basis. While the seasonality of summer workers may attribute to volatility, experts have yet to identify it as the main culprit of unemployment. Evidently, there is more to these numbers than meets the eye.

While the labour report appears to have indisputable data, it can tell two different stories. Under the lens of politics, it is a sign of a government’s weakness in developing Ontario’s economy. However, through the eyes of an economist, the data is still far from a cautionary tale. Before turning to either side, a thorough examination of the data is required.

In July, Ontario added 60,600 jobs. Coupled with the 80,100 job losses in August, the data points to a “reasonable” level of growth. Melino noted that an average of three months from June to August levels out the month-to-month volatility. It is also important to consider long-term trends in the data. While Ontario’s unemployment rate was recently touted as the lowest in 18 years, it should not be the only figure to rely on.

From August 2017 to August 2018, there was a 10.4 per cent increase in the number of unemployed people aged 15–24, an unfortunate warning sign for students and young workers. In addition, the number of unemployed Ontarians increased by 4.5 per cent. Although some sectors have experienced massive growth, the majority have only seen changes between 0.6 and 3.3 per cent. Full-time employment has increased by three per cent, while part-time employment has fallen 6.7 per cent. Overall, the total number of employed Ontarians has increased by 1.1 per cent.

On a month-to-month basis from July to August, there was a decrease in the participation rate of the workforce from 64.8 to 64.2 per cent. This participation rate is the percentage of people from our total population who are 15 and older and capable of working. Furthermore, there was a slight decrease in the employment rate, which fell from 61.3 to 60.6 per cent. Full-time employment has experienced no changes since July.

It is easy to see how the jobs report could spur such a strong reaction. A huge influx of conflicting data is not easy to digest. From a year-to-year perspective, the sharp August job losses have little effect on the long-term trends in full-time and overall employment numbers. Evidently, part-time employment bore the brunt of the steep losses.

This is not to say that the losses should be ignored. While the monthly measurements do not foreshadow the future, they provide a good snapshot of changes in our economy. A shrinking labour force is certainly not going to fuel growth in the long-term. Adding a lower employment rate and no increase in full-time employment does not make the picture any better. Although monthly measures may reflect some volatility, there are some warning signs hinting at a slowing labour market.

Instead of playing the blame game, Queen’s Park should be focused on breaking down the data. No party could provide a proper explanation as to where and why the job losses occurred. Politicizing the issue by passing the responsibility around does not help our economy.

With a shrinking labour force, young workers are key to Ontario’s economic success. Instead of parading a single number around, all the data must be analyzed. Only through a holistic lens will the picture of Ontario’s economy become clear. While the August jobs report is not a sign of complete economic destruction, it is certainly something worth paying attention to.

Andrea Tambunan is a second-year Math and Statistics student at University College.