Only 1.5 Tenured Women in SFU’s PoliSci Department

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There are only 1.5 tenured women who work full-time in SFU’s Political Science Department out of 21 profs. Soon there will be 0.5. What century is this?

Behold the list of faculty in the department:

  1. Of the 21 people on that list, only 6 are women. Whoops, that’s pretty low to start with.
  2. Of the 6 women, 2 are actually retired or retiring very soon; they both had tenure. Whoops, time to update the faculty list webpage.
  3. Of the remaining 4, only one has tenure and she works in another department as well. The other 3 don’t have tenure and only 2 of them work fully in the political science department.
  4. This all means that of the 6 women in the department, the only 2 who work full-time in political science don’t have tenure.

That’s just embarrassing. After picking up a couple degrees there this decade, I’ve seen the tail end of a problem that has existed for many years to get to the point today where women are so ridiculously outnumbered.

Gender and cultural equity matter. Diverse voices matter. A reasonable number of non white men would be good, but now a large majority of the department’s professors are white men.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some extraordinary, intriguing professors in the department, as well as maybe a normal proportion of horrible/demeaning/arrogant teachers. This applies to tenured and non-tenured professors of whatever gender and cultural background.

But the bureaucratic and interpersonal dysfunctions in the department are my best explanations for why the department was put under administration by the dean’s office, why faculty are leaving, why grad students are dismissively neglected, why undergrads seek other majors and different schools for graduate studies, and why when I go to academic conferences people ask me if it’s really as bad at SFU as they’ve heard.

And the worst part is that the leadership of the university has known about these problems for years. I have no idea the extent they have gone to address the problems, but whatever they’ve tried, it’s failing.

Suddenly now we have the horrible statistic of almost no full-time tenured women in the department. And judging by the problems that led to this dire situation, I can’t see how the department is capable of or interested in fixing this situation.

Nous sommes prets. We are ready. That’s SFU’s motto.

A recent slogan is “Thinking of the World.”

It’s time to walk the talk.

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Stephen Elliott-Buckley

Post-partisan eco-socialist. at Politics, Re-Spun
Stephen Elliott-Buckley is a husband, father, professor, speaker, consultant, former suburban Vancouver high school English and Social Studies teacher who changed careers because the BC Liberal Party has been working hard to ruin public education. He has various English and Political Science degrees and has been writing political, social and economic editorials since November 2002. Stephen is in Twitter, Miro and iTunes, and the email thing, and at his website,

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7 thoughts on “Only 1.5 Tenured Women in SFU’s PoliSci Department”

  1. The proportion of women in the department is admittedly a matter of serious concern but the circumstances that have led three female tenured faculty members to retire in the last couple of years (one is leaving on 1 Sept.) are out of our control. We will be welcoming a new tenure track (female) faculty next January. With on-going budgetary restrictions that severely limit the number of foreseable new positions, we may unfortunately not be able to remedy this imbalance very soon.
    Laurent Dobuzinskis, Chair

  2. Sure.

    What has not been out of anyone’s control is pro-active succession planning.

    It is not brain surgery to figure out generally when people expect to retire or when they would be eligible for early retirement packages.

    Nor would it have been all that hard for the department to act on such a “serious concern” for the very long time that there has been a glaring gender imbalance that has now become an embarrassment.

    Future budget restrictions would certainly curtail your means of fixing the problem, but they don’t explain what hasn’t been done in past years to welcome more diverse voices in the department and rectify the department’s reputation around the country.

  3. The skewed gender representation within the Political Science Department at SFU is but the tip of the iceberg.

    I will disagree with you Stephen on one critical point: there has been a long-term plan for the Department. The plan, however, has been one actively premised on the destruction of anything that might be termed “critical” or, rather, relevant scholarship. This is a Department that could barely administer itself and required outside intervention from the Dean, that could barely run a Graduate program (and for a while, it didn’t!), that has increasingly shifted away from anything remotely political to mere polling analysis and statistical manipulation. And these classes, it must be said, are ones where the faculty openly describes it as “lying with numbers” and similar accounts.

    On what grounds SFU continues to be ranked as one of the best schools in the country is beyond me. It certainly has little if anything to do with the Political Science Department.

  4. Yes, to an extent, I was just being polite. Having been gone for 40 months, I’ve missed out on much of the stench of the dirt spilling into the hallways.

    All I know is that while there were and still are some voices that provide a valuable orientation to students about political worlds, I now question whether people who go through that department will be introduced to the kinds of skill sets required in the 21st century.

    And I don’t just mean [deemed] quaint notions of ideological grounding in political discourse.

    And I don’t just mean the sense that people matter, that democracy should have a pulse or that climate breakdown is the single most critical political challenge in human history.

    And I don’t just mean that the relationship between the governed and those governing needs to be treated with more respect than poll-driven ideologues understand.

    I mean that and lots more. And I worry for the future if this kind of cynicism continues to gain more sway in our city, province, country, continent, and trade junta.

    I, for one, cannot abide the insult to people who give a shit about the human condition.

    Thanks for your insight!

  5. Great piece Stephen, both your and Jasmin’s comments are spot on.

    I recently finished my undergrad in Pol Sci at SFU and agree with Jasmin that there has been careful planning to purge the SFU Pol Sci dept of any critical voices.

    I wanted to go back to do my Political Science Masters at SFU, but with the current lack of critical professors and emphasis on quantitative studies in the department, SFU is not a grad school I could recommend to anyone.

    With the departure of McBride and squeezing out of critical professors, SFU has become so ideologically mainstream/conservative that I would not consider or recommend the Political Science program to anyone for grad school (or undergrad for that matter). The department doesn’t have the diversity (gender, racial and ideologically) that provides a rounded education.

  6. You know, I dodged the quantitative cult when I was there because there were real alternatives.

    What saddens me, though, is how much of politics has become worshiping the charts and graphs to see if parties can acquire power by siphoning off enough points in whatever demographics by tweaking policy to buy those voters.

    The BC NDP’s Axe the Tax campaign tried to buy centre voters like Joe the Plumber, but the charts and graphs don’t always warn you about who you’ll alienate when you shift somewhere else.

    The Liberals got elected again because the NDP alienated its base. And it is continuing doing so as the member numbers keep dropping.

    We see federal parties doing it frequently now in Canada and the US.

    The quantitative approach certainly is popular.

    But it’s part of the erosion of principle, policy, planning, goals and vision for a certain kind of future.

    It’s all about being flexible enough to adapt to whatever landscape emerges after the next event that is poll-worthy.

    No wonder so many people aren’t voting and are abandoning party structures. The parties are hollowing themselves out so they cannot be pinned down to the point where they can’t be everything/anything to whoever their target market is.

    It used to be bad when polling snuck into policy formulation, instead of message tweaking. Now polling and quantitative mumbo-jumbo has replace the soul of politics.

    So in this context, I see why those who have taken over the political science department of what was once one of the most radical campuses in the country.

  7. “The proportion of women in the department is admittedly a matter of serious concern but the circumstances that have led three female tenured faculty members to retire in the last couple of years (one is leaving on 1 Sept.) are out of our control.”

    These comments left by the chair of Political Science at SFU can only be seen as a deliberate distortion of what is really at play in the department.

    They ignore the fact that over the past few years two tenured-tracked female faculty were subject to behaviour that was so abusive they felt compelled to leave. The problem of gender is certainly a significant issue in the department, but it intersects with a concerted effort to eliminate critical scholarship from the department. One only has to look at the latest round of faculty to flee, male and female, to see this at play (e.g. Smith, Hankivsky, McBride, Ayers, Hershberg, MacLean etc.).

    As for the retirement issue, this cannot be taken seriously. The 3 last hires, Weldon, Pick-up, and Godbout, are all male. As was mentioned above, I’m pretty sure they could have figured out that all 4 of their tenured female faculty were facing imminent retirement. With the department’s recent obsession with quantitative analysis, you might think that this basic issues of numbers could not go unnoticed. But one should not ignore the issue of gender balance at the expense of heterodoxy in scholarship. As the department has shown with those few women that have recently made the cut, gender is not a problem as long as your scholarship adheres to a mainstream liberal account of the political world.

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