Sociology department’s hiring of Americans causes discord

By Ulli Diemer

The University of Toronto's sociology department has been thrown into a turmoil over its hiring of eight foreigners – and no Canadians – to fill staff vacancies.

Five students and one professor have resigned from the department’s staffing committee, an action that chairman Irving Zeitlin – an American – has labeled as “the worst kind of hypocrisy.”

“They were all sitting on the committee all year and for them to make it appear that someone else was responsible for the decisions is really absurd,” he contended, “I have nothing but contempt for them.”

Zeitlin was rebutted in an open letter to the department by graduate student Paul Craven, one of those who resigned.

Charging Zeitlin with “ad hominem and emotional arguments,” Craven states: “There is no attempt in our letter (of resignation) to pass off responsibility for the decisions on someone else. We do not question the competence of any of the people who were hired.”

“We have not tried to whitewash our own roles on the staffing committee: indeed we went to some lengths to say that we consider ourselves in part responsible for the decisions that were made.”

Other students who resigned also assumed partial blame for what happened. Undergraduate Les Prokop said he considered himself a “failure” for not having resisted more effectively the pressure to hire Americans.

At the same time, they stressed their view that the major responsibility for what occurred must rest with the selection procedures rather than with the individuals on the committee. They charged the criteria of a PhD was overstressed, putting Canadians with only MA status, but with equally valuable research knowledge and publishing credentials, at a disadvantage. They also claim the “search procedure started late and was not intensive enough.”

Craven also added that “it is my belief, based on conversations with some of the Canadian applicants who were not hired, that the status of some applications was incorrectly explained to the Committee. I do not know whether this was an honest mistake or a deliberate misinterpretation. I certainly hope that it was the former.”

Craven also countered Zeitlin’s charge that the students did not “give the full story.” He pointed out all committee members are bound by confidentiality rules. “In many ways, it would have helped our argument to name names and tell ‘the full story,’“ he said.

Seven students and seven faculty, plus Zeitlin, sat on the committee. Two of the seven students had left the university before the crisis occurred this summer.

The five remaining – Pauline Pytka, an undergraduate, and graduates Jim Sacouman and Barry Edgington, plus Prokop and Craven, have all resigned. Professor Jim Turk, an American who took his PhD at U of T, resigned separately.

All of them said the censure of the sociology department’s hiring practices by the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association, passed in August, sparked their resignations. The CSAA motion was moved by professor Paul Grayson of York University and professor Kathleen Herman of Queen’s. Both are recent graduates of the U of T sociology department.

The August motion censured the department for ignoring CSAA’s policy that non-Canadians should not be hired for permanent positions by departments with less than 50 per cent Canadians on their faculty.

In their letter of resignation, the five students call for the department to “achieve 66 per cent Canadian citizenship within the next five years.”

“We propose that ... no non-Canadian citizens be hired in the coming year, except in the case of foreign scholars who have made a substantial recognized contribution to the understanding of Canadian society.”

“At the end of the year, the process should be evaluated and if necessary extended to future years, until the goal of two-thirds Canadian citizenship is reached.”

A similar motion is being submitted to a faculty meeting for approval, by professors Dennis Magill and John Lee.

The motions would supplement guidelines passed in March, 1972, which instructed the staffing committee to attempt to hire sociologists who have “engaged in or definitely committed to doing critical research and teaching on Canada and Canadian problems.”

The question has been debated in the department for some time. In 1971, a staff-student “Canadian content Committee” made a series of recommendations, some calling for more staff who were qualified to teach Canadian content and who have a “critical” approach to sociology.

The committee’s recommendations were watered down and then forgotten about. Students at that time had no representation from the departmental staffing committee.

Last spring a group of faculty members and students circulated a document in the department entitled “Towards a Critical Canadian Sociology.” It criticized the dominant model of sociology as being unsystematic, ahistorical and oriented in favour of a status quo.

The authors called for a science of Canadian society that would orient itself towards exposing structures on domination and exploitation and that would see itself as an agent for social change.

Its staffing recommendations did not mention citizenship. It did call among other things for “hiring outside the discipline” and seeking scholars who question “narrow disciplinary definitions.”

Among the signatories were staffing committee members Paul Craven, Les Prokop, and Jim Sacouman.

The document aroused considerable opposition, with some faculty members claiming that they threatened academic freedom.

However, some supporters of the paper claim the only threat to academic freedom that occurred has been the denial of tenure from professor Bernd Baldus, who signed the document. They claim there is reason to suspect a connection between the two events.

Many of them are also eager to reduce or abolish student involvement in departmental affiliation. Some of them are known to want to a chairman who would reverse the trend to increased student participation leading to speculation that Zeitlin may be caught in a squeeze which he will lose the support of...

Published in in The Varsity, September 11, 1974