COVID-19 and Equity

There has been one underlying and recurrent theme to the coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic: it is ultimately all about equity. Everything—from the demographics associated with rates of infection, treatment outcomes, occupational setting and outbreaks, front lines, job losses, domestic violence, power grabs, the profits of crisis capitalism—is a massive resurfacing of the inadequacy of social structures to absorb, or fairly distribute, the direct and indirect damage caused by a virus that is far from acting as the ‘great equalizer’ that some hypothesized at first. Where the effects have been devastating, the greatest damage has, in fact, been inflicted by the social structures themselves, which have enabled rather than mitigated a biological ‘agent’ that should have been more vulnerable than it has been to the might of fully informed and politically willed humans. The pandemic, instead, moves around the world as if it were an X-ray machine, scanning and exposing the inner fragility of social structures and political commitment. Progress on many equity issues is set to be reversed (appalling evidence around us is the disparity in child well-being and schooling during the lockdown, to name just one instance). Clearly, even in places relatively spared the ravages of political neglect, the fabric of equity is not yet solid enough.

Equity work has never been more relevant. If there used to be times when some thought that on the one hand you had ‘central’ issues and on the other hand you had equity, this crisis should make it clear and transparent that there are no such things as ‘central’ issues that are not ultimately, and in more than one way, about equity. In university contexts, most adjustments to the pandemic and its economic consequences (in addition to the budgetary crisis) are about equity, because there cannot be a fair conversation about jobs, salaries, workload, etc. without an equity perspective in mind. To the extent that we are not all on equal ground (and we currently are not) equity considerations must be integral to all and any responses to the COVID-19 and budgetary crises as an institution.

Thanks to all of you that support and help inform the work of the GEDC. Currently we are busy (during a time of the year that the committee usually slows down) doing work towards the formulation of equity-related bargaining items that members overwhelmingly voted to include in ULFA’s bargaining mandate.  These include salary equity, bias training, appropriate parameters for the evaluation of the work of Indigenous faculty, and a place for student evaluations of teaching that concurs with best practice at Canadian institutions today. Work was completed earlier in the year towards formulating a proposal for having service recognized in the STP process. The list of work needed is much longer, but these are meaningful steps. Of note, we are formulating this as a package; because inequities are systemic, the solution ought to be approached systemically as well. No isolated equity measure can be expected to stand by itself successfully.

Here we include a few selected, equity-related resources that may serve members to think about issues emerging from the current circumstances, which are particularly relevant to faculty members:

Airtime and equity in zoom meetings:

Gender and research during the pandemic:

The widening gap between tenure-track and non-tenure track faculty:

Teaching evaluations during the pandemic:

Women suffer greater job losses and at risk of becoming invisible in the workplace:

On the need of government responses that are informed by equity:

These and other issues of immediate consequence for members, such as consideration given to caregivers in PAR evaluations for the upcoming cycle(s), are on ULFA’s radar and have been raised in various contexts already. Please bring to us any other concerns, questions, and suggestions for future work. Thanks again!

ULFA’s Gender, Equity and Diversity Committee

Andrea Cuéllar, Beth Gerwin, Michelle Hogue, Jeffrey MacCormick, Jennifer Mather, Gülden Özcan, Conor Snoek and Michael Stingl.