Australia’s largest medical research foundation said it was suspending the University of Melbourne from its multimillion-dollar scholarship program because the university has only awarded honorary doctorates to men over the course of of the past three years.
- Last week, the University of Melbourne released a photo of six white men receiving their honorary doctorates
- The Snow Medical Research Foundation has suspended funding for the university until it commits to improving cultural and gender diversity
- The University of Melbourne says the foundation’s decision to suspend funding was based on a single event, which does not reflect the institution as a whole
The Snow Medical Research Foundation said it is cutting ties with the institution until the university can prove its commitment to cultural and gender diversity.
The foundation is one of Australia’s largest philanthropic donors, donating $90 million to the sector, including $24 million to the University of Melbourne.
But he decided to withdraw future donations to the university after a photo of six white men receiving honorary doctorates, along with a press release detailing their achievements, was sent to the media last week.
Snow Medical said that after awarding honorary doctorates exclusively to men in 2020 and awarding none last year, the university has once again only awarded honorary doctorates to male recipients until now this year.
In the press release, which accompanied the photograph of the men, the University of Melbourne said “three women and one Aboriginal man” would receive honorary doctorates in the future, but the university did not name the recipients or publicly recognized their achievements.
Responding to the funding freeze, the university said Snow Medical’s decision was based on a single event, which was “not a true reflection” of the university and the steps it was taking “to build a community diverse university”.
Snow Medical President Tom Snow said the situation and the message sent by the university were unacceptable.
“For the past three years, and they’ve had three years to think about it, they’ve only been able to find white men who can show up for the ceremony,” Mr. Snow said.
“This award isn’t just about recognizing amazing things these people have done. It’s also about sending a signal and being an inspiration to people.
Culture must change from above
The University of Melbourne’s Board of Trustees, made up of the university’s most senior figures, including the Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor, decides who will receive honorary doctorates.
As of 2019, five of the six most recent senior management appointments to the university’s leadership team were women.
Mr Snow said the board’s decisions represented a “cultural issue”.
“There’s clearly a cultural problem if nobody stopped to say, ‘Hey, what will it be like to have six white men awarded, and what effect will that have on women and people of color? “, He said.
In a tweet, Women in STEMM Australia co-founder Marguerite Evans-Galea said the Foundation’s action puts the rest of the industry on notice.
“Snow Medical’s leadership on this issue sends a clear message across the industry and, importantly, sets a new standard for organizations by driving positive change for underrepresented leaders in STEMM, including women,” wrote Dr. Evans-Galea.
Mr Snow said the foundation was committed to working with the university to achieve meaningful change before reinstating scholarships.
“I’m sure they wish that didn’t happen,” Mr Snow said.
In response, the University of Melbourne acknowledged there was room for improvement, but said Snow Medical made the decision based on a single event that did not reflect the institution as a whole.
“This event does not accurately reflect who we are as a university and the steps we are taking and continue to take to build a diverse university community, reflecting society at large,” the University of Melbourne said in a statement. .
The university pointed to a diversity and inclusion strategy released last year, which “supports a vision to create a thriving, equitable and diverse university community.”
In return, Mr. Snow recognized his own foundation’s need to improve its diversity and inclusion.
Their scholarship committee is chaired by a woman, with the remaining positions held by another woman and three men. None are colored.
“We all have improvements to make and we can all do better,” Mr Snow said.
“Although we work very hard to get a diverse board, we still have to improve. I don’t hide that.”