Former St. Mary’s prof alleges discrimination against school

“I felt I really fitted the bill,” says Koilpillai. “This was perfect, I love teaching.” (Photo: Adina Bresge)

When Radha Koilpillai found a job listing for a full-time lecturer in the management department at Saint Mary’s University, she checked off each of the requirements before submitting her application.

“I felt I really fitted the bill,” she says.

After nearly a month of hearing nothing, the hiring committee told Koilpillai they needed a second round of voting.

“My first reaction was: Why me?” she said. “Why am I being singled out?”

The former Saint Mary’s professor, who testified before a provincial human rights inquiry against the university that opened this week, was a part-time instructor when she applied for the position.

In her complaint against her former employer, Koilpillai claims she was discriminated against in the selection process due to her race.

Born and raised in eastern India, Koilpillai moved to Halifax in 1989 to be with her husband.

While she held the equivalent of a master in social work degree from a respected university, Koilpillai found Canadian employers were skeptical of her credentials.

“They’d ask me, ‘Where did you learn your English?’” Koilpillai said. “I knew I needed local certification to be recognized as someone who could work.”

A mother of two, Koilpillai took daytime classes at Saint Mary’s to work towards a master’s in business administration. Shortly after graduating in 2003, she started teaching part-time at the school.

Even with faculty union restrictions on her course load, Koilpillai says she taught the “broadest plethora of courses” in the department of management.

In February 2012, the university posted a job for a full-time lecturer whose “primary responsibility would be introductory business and management.”

Koilpillai saw this as an opportunity to take over a course she had taught several times.

“This was perfect, I love teaching,” she said. “I don’t have a PhD, so I can never get a tenured position.”

The posting also advertised Saint Mary’s commitment to employment equity, which Koilpillai said “meant a lot” to her as member of a visible minority.

Koilpillai and three other candidates were shortlisted.

On Nov. 30, 2012, Koilpillai fielded questions from a panel of professors. She also delivered a mock lecture, during which department faculty members provided student-derived dis- tractions to simulate classroom conditions.

Koilpillai heard that management faculty met for a vote on Dec. 14. According murmurs in the department, she and an exter- nal male candidate were locked in a virtual tie.

Patricia Fitzgerald, a colleague in the department, reminded Koilpillai the university’s collective agreement had an equity pro- vision, according to her testimony.

While scrolling through the agreement with Koilpillai over the phone, Fitzgerald noticed an- other condition that may apply.

The clause stipulates in a decision between equal candidates, part-time staff members should receive hiring priority.

After reading the clause ten times, Koilpilloi felt confident she would be awarded the position.

“If these two clauses are cor- rectly applied and looked at, there should be no issue,” she said.

She did not hear back from the department until Dec. 23, when chair Russell Summers contacted her to tell her he was e-mailing faculty members to collect absent votes. Koilpillai says this decision “upset (her) a lot.” She said many other department votes had passed without the entire faculty present.

“Many times, they have had discussions about e-mail votes for full-time hires and it has been shut down.”

Margaret Murphy, vice-president of external affairs for the university, emphasized that “nocandidate was chosen” for the po- sition in a statement released on Feb. 1.

Management department faculty could not reach a consensus on the hiring decision, leading business school dean Patricia Bradshaw to declare it a failed search.

The university, the Saint Mary’s University Faculty Association and two faculty members were named in Koilpillai’s original 2013 complaint.

A human rights investigator’s report upheld the complaint against the university, but dismissed those against union and named individuals.

The hearing is expected to continue for two more weeks.

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