If you liked it then you should have put a synchrotron accelerator storage ring on it: university teachers smash the CERC patriarchy

The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) has been one of the most persistent critics of the Harper government’s science and technology policy. It was CAUT president James Turk who got yelled at and kicked out of Gary Goodyear’s office last year while attempting to critique the then-latest federal budget. Here, the organization takes a stand against the Canada Excellence Research Chairs program, which funds 19 lead investigators from around the world, to the tune of $10 million each for a 7-year research project. Rather famously, the program named 19 men and no women for the CERC chairs.

My column in the brand-new edition of our magazine, which should appear online tomorrow, paints an almost completely positive picture of the CERC program, because I spent the day talking to university administrators. The CAUT speaks for a certain chunk of the population of university teachers, who have different interests, and because I love an argument, I thought I’d post their news release in full. There’s a lot here that I don’t endorse, but here. Let’s keep the conversation going at least. — pw

“The announcement of the awarding of 19 Canada Excellence Research Chairs brings into focus ongoing concerns about the Government of Canada’s approach to scientific research. As the organization representing most of Canada’s researchers, many of whose research plans are limited by under-funding, CAUT questions the value of a program that imposes new costs on institutions and diverts resources, fails entirely to address long-standing gender equity concerns, and represents the latest in a series of attempts by the government to steer scientific research.

“The CERC announcement comes as the funding available for the majority of academic researchers has fallen, and when many universities and colleges are cutting programs and staff. The last Federal Budget provided only a modest increase for Canada’s research granting councils, hardly equal to inflation and certainly not enough to offset the nearly $148 million in cuts announced last year. Similarly, the failure of the federal government to provide new long-term funding for agencies such as the Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences and Genome has left many of our leading scientists in these fields and their research in limbo.

“The CERC program imposes new costs on institutions and diverts resources internally. Dalhousie University, for example, will need to find $24 million over seven years to support the newly appointed CERC in ocean science and technology, more than double the $10 million the federal government is providing. The University of Saskatchewan is putting up $10 million to help pay for its CERC in water security, with the province providing a matching sum at the same time it is cutting funds for the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation. In effect, the CERC program is funding a handful of “stars” while other researchers are running out of funding, labs are being shut, staff are facing rollbacks, and courses are being discontinued.

“There is also a complete lack of gender and equity balance amongst the chairholders. The fact that there is not even one woman amongst the 19 CERC is unconscionable. Similar concerns around the Canada Research Chairs led to a human rights complaint and a settlement in which the government agreed to uphold its obligation to ensure that its programs are gender equitable. The CERC program flies in the face of that settlement and the government’s commitments.

“Finally, many in the research community are concerned about the relatively narrow focus of the CERC program which represents four priority areas identified by the federal government: the environment, natural resources and energy, health sciences, and information and communication technologies. While these are clearly important fields of study, CAUT does not believe it is appropriate for the government to steer research. Decisions about the merits of scientific research are best left to scientists, not governments or politicians. Moreover, the focus on just four priorities not only excludes the majority of researchers in the natural sciences, but it effectively shuts out the more than half of Canada’s researchers and graduate students in the social sciences and humanities.

“The CERC program highlights the lack of an overall vision for scientific research in Canada. Canadian science will best prosper when universities and colleges are more adequately funded, when basic research funding provided through the three granting agencies is sufficient to fund projects of scientific merit across all disciplines, and when what should be funded is based upon the judgment of the scientific community.”

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