‘I want to initiate change’
International Women’s Day is an occasion to recognize and celebrate the achievements of women all over the world. But it also serves to remind us that the fight for equality continues in all spheres, including academia.
To mark this important occasion at Concordia, we’re launching a bimonthly series of published conversations with visionary teachers, researchers, leaders and community members.
The series starts with four prominent leaders.
June Chaikelson began her teaching at Sir George Williams University, one of Concordia’s founding institutions, 49 years ago. In 1977, she was appointed dean of Division II of the Faculty of Arts and Science. Currently a member of the university’s Senate, Chaikelson has also served as president of the Concordia University Faculty Association (CUFA) and as a member of the Board of Governors.
Linda Dyer, a professor of management in the John Molson School of Business for over 30 years, was appointed chair of her department in 2012. She also serves as Fellow in Faculty Development with the Provost Fellows Program. Dyer teaches research methodology and critical thinking about business. Her current research focuses on small-business management and age diversity in organizations.
Paula Wood-Adams was hired in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in 2001, served for four years as the department’s graduate program director and has held a Concordia University Research Chair since 2006. She was appointed dean of Graduate Studies last year. Wood-Adams was a member of the working group that developed Concordia’s current Academic Plan.
Lorraine Oades (MFA 90) has been an instructor in the Faculty of Fine Arts for the past 19 years. Since being appointed vice-president of professional development of the Concordia University Part-time Faculty Association (CUPFA) two years ago, she has undertaken numerous projects designed to help integrate part-time faculty members into the mainstream of the university and promote their research and artistic endeavours.
Why did you choose an academic career?
June Chaikelson: I always wanted to be a psychologist, and by the time I got into my PhD, I was married. You have to remember — back in 1965, those were very different times. There was no daycare back then. I wanted to have a family, and a career in academia would give me the most flextime. I didn’t get it for long, because in 1975 I became chair of the Department of Psychology. I lost some flextime. And in 1977, when I became dean, there was absolutely no flextime.
Linda Dyer: I admit that I sort of fell into academia. I chose a graduate school primarily based on location. It turned out that its mission was to train academics. So I became an academic. Once I started, I found the work to be engaging and fun. I still do.
Lorraine Oades: I was the first in my family to attend university and the second to finish high school. Going to university opened many doors for me, and I am grateful to have studied at a time when education was more affordable. It is extremely important for the health of our economy and the future of our cities, provinces and country to ensure that young people from all economic backgrounds have access to higher education.
Paula Wood-Adams: I was looking for a career where I could feel like I was making a real difference. Academia allows me to do the engineering and scientific work that I love but also to feel like I’m making a difference in students’ lives. There are all kinds of challenges, and lots of new things to do every day. I’m always learning and never bored.
How did you end up in your leadership position?
JC: I was in the right place at the right time. My chair at that time, Jane Stewart, went on sabbatical. I became acting chair for the time that she was away, and when her term ended, I became chair. From that, I got involved in other things, like the Sir George Williams Council of the Faculty of Arts. Then, after the merger of Sir George and Loyola, I became dean of Division II, which covered the social sciences.
LD: I had come to Montreal for my undergraduate degree, and remembered the city fondly. So when I was completing my degree, I saw that a school in Montreal was on the job market. I applied and got my job at Concordia, and I have never moved or even contemplated moving anywhere else. I find Concordia people — colleagues, students, staff — to be endlessly stimulating. I guess I agreed to be department chair because I need the continued stimulation!
LO: As a teacher and practising artist, I have a lot of experience putting on exhibitions, curating events, organizing workshops and participating on committees both within the university and the arts community. I also have a natural tendency to want to be involved and initiate change, not only for part-time faculty but also students and the university as a whole. I believe these things attracted me to the CUPFA executive when they were looking for someone to fill my position.
PWA: I got interested in the administration of graduate studies quite a while ago. My chair asked if I wanted to be the graduate program director and I jumped at the chance. I felt I could help improve the program and the experience of the students. I really like working with graduate students in my own research group and on university committees and working groups. I like the relationship between graduate studies and research, and I like helping new researchers develop their skills.
As an academic leader and a woman, who has inspired you the most?
JC: Jane Stewart was in my department, and she was a very great woman. She was chair before me, and asked me to become chair.
My mother always encouraged me to do things. I also had good colleagues — good male colleagues. They encouraged me.
LD: My dad.
LO: Many women have inspired me: Hannah Arendt, Simone Weil, Simone de Beauvoir, Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, Amelia Earhart, Emma Goldman, Nellie McClung, Iris Murdoch, Toni Morrison, Emily Carr, Louise Bourgeois, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, the many women colleagues I teach with at Concordia, the women on the CUPFA executive and our exceptional women students.
Funnily enough, one of the women who inspires me every day is Queen Elizabeth II, in part because her portrait appears on our currency. I’m not a monarchist, but I can’t help but feel this has had an important subconscious effect not only on me, but also on many Canadians.
PWA: My role models have been men, in particular my doctoral advisor John Dealy. Most of what I do now is based on the things he taught me in graduate school. Since I have gotten involved in the university’s administration, I would say Lisa Ostiguy. She definitely inspired me when she took over as interim provost last year. I thought that was pretty awesome and so incredibly brave.
Over the last couple of years, I have started to meet deans of graduate studies from other universities. It’s the first time that I’ve really gotten to know women working at that level in university leadership.
How has the position of women changed in your lifetime?
JC: There was no such thing as daycare when I started. There was no such thing as maternity or parental leave when I started. I had two children, and had to manage on my own — with my husband, of course, but still on my own.
I didn’t have that many female colleagues, though psychology had more women than most other departments. I was the first chair of the Joint Employment Equity Committee, and was involved in writing the Joint Employment Equity Plan. We have certainly drastically increased the number of women at the university in my lifetime, and there are more benefits for women now.
LD: I believe that expectations of women have changed — what others expect of women, as well as what women expect of themselves. The explosion of information means that women now are expected (and expect) to have rewarding careers, talented children, svelte and toned bodies, to cook ethnically diverse, sustainable, gluten-free meals, dress in an edgy but elegant fashion, be widely travelled and politically knowledgeable, all while making their menfolk and female friends feel unthreatened and cherished.
In the past, our horizons were more limited, but there were enough hours in the day to live the lives we expected to live. But maybe we always think the past offered a simpler life…
LO: When I was about five years old I remember my brother, who was two years older than me, telling me that men could do anything better than women, including cooking, because only men cooked professionally. It represented a mindset that was prevalent at the time and still is in some places.
Less than 100 years ago, most women were not allowed access to higher education. Today, approximately 60 per cent of university undergraduates in Canada are women. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to have been one of those first few women attending university — the challenges, biases and isolation they must have felt, despite their excitement and enthusiasm. There is no doubt that these were exceptional women.
PWA: The discipline that I used to be in, chemical engineering, is nearly gender balanced now. But when I came to Concordia, I moved into mechanical engineering, which is where chemical engineering was 20 years ago, in terms of the number of women. That being said, there are definitely way more women involved in engineering overall. In industry, you see women in higher positions, too — more senior-level chief technical officers, for example.
What changes would you like to see in universities over the next 10 years?
JC: I think opportunities for women at Concordia are about equal to men. I would like to see some men develop greater sensibilities.
One of the things I would like to see is this university make a greater use of retired faculty, to see better utilization of retired-person power. We have a lot of very experienced people both in administration and support staff, and in faculty. The hospitals make tremendous use of volunteers, but it doesn’t happen at the university.
LD: I’d like to see us find creative ways to cut through the cynicism and disengagement I see in some students. We need to seize their imaginations and get them thrilled about the knowledge bases that excite us. We can do much, much more to make students’ learning experiences more vivid.
I’d like to see more flexibility in university structures to allow us to take students by surprise and get them passionate about learning, taking this learning out into the wide world, and building their own futures in an entrepreneurial fashion. This may require a somewhat smaller student-teacher ratio, which runs counter to the current economic pressures on universities.
LO: Universities will continue to change, and it won’t be long before we see women playing a much greater role in upper administrative positions, not only in Canada but also internationally. Women all over the world face enormous hardship simply because of their gender.
Even in Canada, an unacceptable percentage of aboriginal women, visible minorities, women with disabilities, single mothers and seniors fall well below the poverty line. Statistics tell us women head 80 per cent of single parent households. Single mothers have a net worth of only about $17,000 in Canada, while single fathers earn approximately $80,000 a year.
We have much work to do, and this involves creating effective structures to support women nationally and internationally. Education will continue to play a key role in this process.
PWA: I would like to see more women coming into engineering, particularly at the undergraduate level. Mechanical and electrical engineering, for example, are still very much male-dominated.
At the university administration level, I would certainly like to see more women involved. There are definitely more women involved this year than there were last year: Lisa Ostiguy (deputy provost), Cathy Bolton (vice-provost), Joanne Locke (interim dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science), Guylaine Beaudry (interim university librarian) and myself. Things have improved recently, but it’s too soon to say whether that’s a long-term trend.
This article is the first in a bi-monthly series celebrating the contributions of women to Concordia University. Do you know someone who ought to be included? Let us know at by emailing email@example.com.