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SFU commits to hiring, retaining at least 15 more Black faculty members

Last Updated Sep 14, 2021 at 10:55 pm PDT

File Photo: Robert C. Brown Hall, Simon Fraser University. (Source: Screenshot, Google Maps)
Summary

The motion was brought forward Monday, but builds on months of work by students, activists

Simon Fraser University has committed to significantly increasing the number of Balck faculty across disciplines

BURNABY (NEWS 1130) — Simon Fraser University’s senate has voted to move ahead with a plan to hire at least 15 tenure-track Black faculty, a move meant to advance diversity, and combat anti-Black racism on campus.

The motion was brought forward Monday by Gabe Liosis, student senator and the current president of the Simon Fraser Student Society. But he wants it understood that the work was a collective effort, led by Black students and activists on campus.

“I just want to be clear. I was bringing it on behalf of the original author of the motion, who was a former member of senate. Her name is Osab Mohammed, she was really the one who put in the time and labour in trying to bring this very important motion to Senate,” he explains, noting it was first brought to the table back in February.

“Due to the advocacy and pressure that Black student activists and community leaders engaged in over the last number of months we were able to see this get added to the Senate agenda last night and brought forward for Senate’s consideration. The senate in deliberating on this motion had to face the fact that that institutional racism does exist, and that we need to use all the tools necessary at our disposal to really advance racial equity.”

Liosis says the motion was deliberately crafted so that faculty would be hired across departments and disciplines.

“There is a huge lack of lived experience of Black people represented in programs and disciplines all across the university. I can confidently say that as a third-year student, I’ve never had a Black professor, and I think that rings true for so many, SFU students,” he said.

“It’s not enough to just have Black people teach within one discipline, which historically has been an African studies program, or a Black studies program. By intentionally trying create a cluster hire program that spreads these hires across multiple disciplines, across the university — it really improves the student experience because you’re getting that lived experience from these Black faculty that you would not get otherwise.”

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Specifying that the positions will be tenure-track was also an intentional decision, Liosis explains.

“The last thing that we would want to do is engage in a cluster hire of 15 Black faculty, and then for those folks to be hired, and for them to be an incredibly precarious situations. We want to ensure that the retention and prioritization of these folks, is at the centre of this cluster hire program.”

Another explicit part of the motion, Liosis adds, is asking for an onboarding program to be designed for these hires that is “very specific to ensuring that we can retain and make these Black faculty feel welcome, and nurtured, and that their presence within spaces of the university is appreciated and valued.”

While it is expected to be a multi-year project, Liosis says it became clear in the meeting that there is a precedent.

“This has been done before in terms of trying to recruit and retain Indigenous faculty. So we have the infrastructure in place to make this happen and we can replicate it, of course, recognizing that there are big differences in the institutional barriers that Indigenous people face versus black people, but the infrastructure is there.”

Liosis says the vote from the senate is a significant win, and can be used to hold them accountable.

“We have a commitment and a directive from the senate to move forward with this, and that’s quite powerful.”