The first indigenous professor to be recruited under SFU’s Aboriginal Faculty Recruitment Plan was hired in the Department of Education last month.
The plan, unrolled by the VP Academic office two years ago, will fund the creation of up to two new Aboriginal faculty positions each year. When a position is filled, the office then pays for three years of salary and benefits, after which the faculty is required to continue to support the professor.
“This is a way of trying to increase the number of Aboriginal faculty in the university, but it’s not the only way we recruit Aboriginal people,” explained VP Academic Jon Driver.
However, the new assistant professor hired in education has chosen to remain anonymous in the wake of their appointment.
“[They’re] sensitive about being identified [as] having been recruited in that particular way,” confirmed Driver.
“Even though this is not the intention, whenever you have a program [where] you’re trying to incentivize people to bring in underrepresented groups there’s always the concern that someone could get a job not because they are the most qualified person but because of some aspect of who they are.
Driver stressed, however, that the same commonplace standards of rigour are upheld when faculty are hired under the recruitment program.
“I’m confident that when we do the hiring that we get very good people,” he said.
The program has also sparked the creation of four other positions since 2014 for Aboriginal hires in business, health sciences, communications, and environment. Unlike in the Education department, searches to fill these new positions have to date turned up empty handed.
According to Director of the Office for Aboriginal Peoples William Lindsay, these failures are in part due to the limited number of Aboriginal academics available at SFU.
“We do have some areas that are strong in Aboriginal faculty; those are Education, First Nation Studies, and Health Sciences,” said Lindsay. “But in the other faculties there is little to no Aboriginal faculty representation.”
The initiative is also coupled with a scholarship program for indigenous graduate students to help them complete their degrees and go on to obtain their doctorate.
The monetary support for the recruitment plan is derived from the VP Academic’s strategic initiative fund allocated for such projects. Driver says that the program costs the university between $90,000–$100,000 per Aboriginal faculty member each year, as most new hires are brought on board as assistant professors.
Lindsay emphasised that it is important to increase the number of aboriginal academics at SFU in order to indigenize curriculums, attract Aboriginal grad students, and encourage Aboriginal research and community partnerships.
“It could make a substantive difference for SFU in the eyes of the Aboriginal community,” he noted. “[SFU’s] getting known for being one of the major universities that is welcoming Aboriginal people and initiatives, so this can be one of SFU’s reputation projects.”
Despite the limited success since the program was enacted in 2014, Driver insists that the long-term project will be successful.
“I think we need to continue the program until we see an increase in the number of Aboriginal faculty members at SFU,” he said.
Driver and Lindsay both acknowledge that some aspects of the program are ambiguous; namely, identifying a potential recruit as being an indigenous person. Thus far they agree that the candidates recently hired were clearly identifiable as Aboriginal, but they also noted the need to rely on a person’s self-declaration and their relations with Aboriginal communities in order to approve a person’s suitability for the positions.
“It’s not a completely clear cut definition, and I think if we were to see somebody who had very close ties to an Aboriginal community [including through research], we would be interested in recruiting them,” Driver explained. “I could imagine, for example, recruiting indigenous people from outside of this country for these positions for a more global perspective.”
However, the need to bring more Canadian Aboriginal people into the university is still a top priority.
“The intention [of the program] is to recruit people who would be clearly identified as Aboriginal in Canada,” he said.