Postscript on equality

In between fiddling with the settings of this blog and completing the first entry, I attended the meeting of the University’s Equality Committee where we discussed the action plan for the Equality and Diversity Plan 2017–2018 (unfortunately not available in English yet) that the Rector had approved over the summer months. One thing that I brought up as something worth developing are the University’s recruitment practices.

The background is this. The Finnish Universities Act 2009 changed the status of higher education institutions. Universities were formerly public institutions (and University employees civil servants), but they now belong to the private sector. At least for the most part. Formerly the recruitment of University staff was regulated by the rather formal and stringent rules that apply to civil servants. Now apparently the understanding is that these rules of administrative law no longer apply (although some public law experts claim otherwise).

Be what may, Universities have rather abruptly shifted from one world of recruitment practices to another. And all is not well.

First, the selection criteria according to which research and teaching staff are shortlisted and recruited are not as clear as they could be. Instead of having a tick-box set of qualifications that the recruiter has to go through and address one by one, we have more general descriptions about research and teaching qualifications that leave too much room for interpretation. The criteria in the calls that I have seen are, in fact, so rounded that I find it very difficult to imagine how a potential candidate can frame her application to match the required qualifications in the call.

Second, there do not seem to be uniform instructions for the committees that prepare the appointments both in terms of shortlisting and making a recommendation to the Rector. Because of the lack of such instructions, the committees have been known to move the goalposts during the selection process emphasizing one criterion here and another there. This makes it even harder for the applicant to frame her application. The lack of such instructions also allows for different interpretations of the selection criteria in different cases.

So far what I have said is based on anecdotal evidence. But the amount of dissatisfaction with recruitment decisions points to a lack of clarity. An applicant should be entitled to know in advance the criteria against which her application is measured and to what extent her application did not satisfy those criteria. Rejected applicants have no recourse to appeal, and the University’s ‘culture’ does not require responses to requests for feedback.

So plenty to be done.