Visual Arts chair halts hiring, calls for equity review

Campus News

The University of Victoria’s search for two tenure-track assistant professors in the Visual Arts department has been put on hold for an equity review in light of concerns raised around the exclusion of an Indigenous candidate from the hiring shortlist.

The job posting states that applicants must have “demonstrated experience in post-secondary teaching,” and that “curatorial experience, a record of critical writing, and/or a background in Indigenous knowledge will be considered assets.”

In a letter dated April 20 and addressed to Visual Arts Department Chair Paul Walde, a number of UVic staff and faculty expressed their support for the candidate, Jackson 2Bears Leween: a Victoria-based Kanien’kehaka (Mohawk) artist who was appointed the 2013-2014 Audain Professor of Contemporary Arts of the Pacific Northwest for the Department of Visual Arts.

The letter states: “Given the University of Victoria’s historical and continuing commitment to Indigenous scholarship and full equity in hiring practices, we find the hiring process of the Department of Visual Arts to be, in this instance, substantively biased against Indigenous candidates.” The letter is signed by 27 individuals, including Dr. Arthur Kroker, a UVic political science professor and a Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory; Dr. Taiaiake Alfred, Professor of Indigenous Governance; and Dr. Val Napoleon, Law Foundation Professor of Aboriginal Justice and Governance.

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One of the signees, Dr. Stephen Ross, said that the exclusion of Leween is reflective of a continued struggle on the part of UVic to uphold its mandate as a centre for advancing Indigenous scholarship. “It’s basically down to the tendency to overlook Indigenous scholars who are here and working here when posts come open.”

“Not to interview him is — at the very least — insulting. But not to interview any Indigenous candidates for a job in which expertise in Indigenous art is a qualification is really egregious,” Ross said.

Dean of Fine Arts Lynne Van Luven declined to comment on Leween’s exclusion from the shortlist and whether any Indigenous candidates were included. Walde and Luven also declined to comment on the hiring process and equity review. Both stated that “it is not possible to discuss the [hiring] process without breaking rules of confidentiality and putting at risk the privacy of the individuals involved in the process.”

When contacted by the Martlet, Leween gave no comment.

Ross hopes that the equity review will bring some positive closure to the process. “It’s very much to [Walde’s] credit that he has responded to outrage over the decision by intervening in the process and reconsidering the steps already taken. I feel sure that Dr. Walde wants to do what’s right here, and that the circumstances will be resolved. I really do hope that they are going to get this sorted out in a way that is fair and productive on all sides.”