The intention behind the University of Manitoba faculty of education’s diversity program is laudable. The decision to ensure a certain percentage of students accepted into education fall into one of five diversity categories was announced Thursday. In a news release, Melanie Janzen, associate dean of undergraduate programs, explained the intention of the policy is to in part “address the social and historic inequities faced by marginalized groups.”

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Editorial

The intention behind the University of Manitoba faculty of education’s diversity program is laudable. The decision to ensure a certain percentage of students accepted into education fall into one of five diversity categories was announced Thursday. In a news release, Melanie Janzen, associate dean of undergraduate programs, explained the intention of the policy is to in part "address the social and historic inequities faced by marginalized groups."

However, the announcement made earlier this week has already resulted in a backlash, with Free Press readers condemning the move as affirmative action, reverse discrimination and political correctness run amok.

In a nutshell, the faculty of education will ensure after 2017 that 45 per cent of the seats in education will be allocated to students who self-identify in a number of diverse criteria, including disability, ethnicity and sexuality. If there aren’t enough diversity applicants, then the seats will go to those in the general population.

First, let’s be clear. This is not affirmative action. It is not about quotas. The university was careful to spell out that the mandatory entrance requirements will still be met. What it does mean is if there are two students with the same qualifications, but one is a diversity student and one is not, then the diversity student will get the nod. 

That may seem unfair, but in the long run, it does the right thing in ensuring a more representative teaching class. Students may self-identify without actually belonging to those specific categories in an attempt to get a leg up. It’s not really clear how that will be policed, but in other organizations such as the federal government, there haven’t been concerns raised about false self-identification in its attempts to improve equity, so let’s not borrow trouble on that point.

Some will complain the diversity program doesn’t actually reflect real life because men aren’t being included in that category, despite the fact male teachers, particularly male teachers in primary grades, are still a minority. Janzen says men still remain the majority, however, in leadership positions within the schools and can’t be described as disadvantaged.

There’s nothing to stop the university from stepping up efforts to recruit men to work as teachers, but as Dr. Janzen points out, this still remains an area that is viewed as "women’s work," and men tend to self-select to other career options. 

The unintended consequence of the implementation of this type of policy is there will now be more pressure put on the university to ensure programs are in place to support these students. First Nations students, for example, often come in as adult learners, with children or grandchildren in tow. Disabled students may require accommodation and support, for instance, to ensure their success. It’s incumbent on the university to also provide the necessary resources to improve the programs in place, if it truly wants the program to fly.

In addition, the university will now have to work overtime to ensure their diversity students themselves don’t face a backlash from their student cohorts in the classroom and from hiring committees at graduation time because of this too-common view that they are somehow second-rate.

It looks like the education faculty has some homework ahead for a smooth transition to policy that is long overdue. Recruit more men to the teaching profession and ensure supports are in place for the new diversity students about to enroll in 2017. And once those goals have been met, perhaps it can then focus on the harder task: getting the very best from their students in terms of education.