Canada’s Human Rights Tribunal is under public scrutiny again when its Ontario Tribunal (HRTO) interceded on a human rights complaint. Professor Emily Carasco, one of the two candidates shortlisted for the post of Law Dean at the University of Windsor, claimed she was rejected for the position due to racism and sexism among members of the university’s search committee. Professor Carasco now wants the HRTO to stop U of Windsor’s search for a new Dean of Law and immediately appoint her for the position.

Early last month, the tribunal came to a decision deemed by some as invasive. It ruled in the interim that, while the tribunal investigates the complaint further, the university could continue searching and hire a replacement for outgoing Law Dean Professor Bruce Elman.

However, if the tribunal ruled in favour of Professor Carasco at the end of their investigation, the HRTO reserves the right to replace the current dean of law with Professor Carasco.

Professor Carasco’s story hasn’t been given much attention by the mainstream media, which is perhaps appropriate, given the gravity of the issue. Only cursory coverage of the news can be found in the Windsor Star and the National Post. However, the way this matter has been described in the newspapers doesn’t feel quite right on several levels.

First of all, the issue is downplayed as a squabble amongst faculty. A particularly disparaging article from the National Post likened university faculties to a ‘snake pit’. Professor Carasco’s debacle with U of Windsor’s Law School was trivialized as a ‘faculty-lounge politics’ that had gotten out of control.

I hardly think that a person of Professor Carasco’s credibility would run crying to the HRTO over trivial matters. Her official complaint to the HRTO detailed many instances throughout her career at U of Windsor where the university and, in particular, the faculty fell short of meeting with equitable employment standards.

The gravest of them was where professor Carasco, among others, was clearly proven to be underpaid by the faculty. The matter was settled internally through the university’s built-in remedial mechanisms and the issue’s resolution seems to have been accepted by the parties involved. Case closed.

Judging from this incident, I find it hard to believe that professor Carasco’s complaint to the HRTO was simply a case of sour grapes at having been rejected for a position she coveted.
Professor Carasco also claimed that a colleague, professor Richard Moon had sabotaged her reputation by bringing up past allegations of academic misconduct. However, the matter was quickly dismissed rather than being further investigated upon. Instead, according to Professor Carasco, the search committee jumped at the opportunity to question her integrity in an effort to mask their discrimination and ultimately reject her application.

She said she felt betrayed by her colleagues and those in power at the institution. The way her allegations of sabotage by professor Moon were dismissed left her “psychologically bruised with a sense of hopelessness.”

Another National Post article highlighted professor Carasco’s resume as the inspiration for her complaint. To her credit or discredit, depending on your position on the matter, professor Carasco’s career in law has been heavily invested in gender and race equity.

She served as a member on the Status of Women Committee of the University of Windsor Faculty Association (WUFA) from 1983-88, as an executive of WUFA from 1985-86 and as the Vice President of WUFA from 1987-88. She has since served in various capacities on numerous committees overseeing human rights issues pertaining to women, visible minorities and immigrants. Clearly, the university’s many inequitable practices have been under her microscopic lenses for a while now.

Professor Carasco claims that, in her years at the faculty, there has been a tradition of white male dominance in the faculty’s upper echelon. She details in her complaint how the university’s law dean has always been a white male except for Dean Juanita Westmoreland-Troare. It’s important to note that Dean Westmorelan-Troare was also the only dean in the faculty’s history to have been hired without a tenure. She left U of Windsor before her term ended.

I asked Dr. Rebecca Godderis, Assistant Professor at Laurier Brantford’s Health Studies, if activism-paranoia (for lack of a better term) is at fault here. Professor Godderis suggested a simple observation, “Just look at who your professors are. The majority are white, for sure…and, although it’s starting to shift a bit, the majority are still men.”

I quickly did the math on the professors I have for this semester; two of them are white males, the other a white female. OK, maybe this semester is an anomaly.

But then, in my three years at Laurier Brantford, I’ve had 19 male professors – 18 of them were white, one of them was an African – and nine female professors who were all white.

Interesting. Does that mean that Laurier Brantford is unfair in its hiring process?

Perhaps, but professor Godderis pointed out that it’s important to look beyond instances of inequity. Very often, many factors would have been at work to put an individual at a position of disadvantage when it comes to employment, thus excluding them from making it onto the shortlist.

“If all [the] best candidates are white men and the other candidates are women of visible minorities [and] their resumes aren’t as good, there could be something happening there in terms of the opportunities that those individuals have to develop their resumes before they get to that moment.”

So it’s possible that there is systemic discrimination going on and, in professor Carasco’s case, it’s being dragged out into the open.

But it’s not that easy to scream bloody discrimination in an age when there are explicit preventative measures. As feminism started gaining tract in the 1950s and 1960s, sexism, for example, became subtler and harder to see. Feminists have consequently coined the term the ‘chilly climate’ to describe the way environments have been made overtly hostile towards women without being covertly discriminatory.

“I don’t know that I will ever be the same – not so much because I did not get the job – but because of how it happened and how many people permitted it to happen,” professor Carasco wrote in her complaint.

It is obvious that discrimination has become more subtle and complex as we grow into a more and more diverse society. Even though there are laws against it, it doesn’t mean that we live in a society that is completely fair and just. The onus is on us as a society to properly examine the case before dismissing it simply as an inane squabble.