The country’s largest medical research foundation has made the ‘difficult decision’ to suspend the University of Melbourne from its multi-million dollar fellowship program, claiming it failed to demonstrate a commitment to gender and cultural diversity.
The Snow Medical Research Foundation (Snow Medical) said it was “unacceptable” that the university recently awarded honorary doctorates to “six white men” and in the past three years had not awarded a single honorary doctorate to women or someone of non-white descent.
This statement was made before the university amended its press release to say there were other recipients who were unable to attend the in-person ceremony.
“This list includes three women and an Indigenous man who were recognised for outstanding achievements in their fields of endeavour,” the release read. “These honorary doctorates will be conferred at a later date.”
No honorary doctorates were awarded in 2021, while in 2020 two were conferred to men.
The foundation has donated more than $90 million to medical research in the past two years alone. The Melbourne Parkville campus has benefited from $24 million from Snow Medical which also awarded an additional $16 million to the university via two Snow Fellowships last year.
Snow Medical is the medical research arm of the renowned philanthropic organisation The Snow Foundation, which was founded in 1991 by Canberra brothers Terry and George Snow.
However, when a photo of the six Caucasian men receiving honorary doctorates from the university was circulated to the media last week, Snow Medical decided to pull future donations saying in a statement the “University’s outcomes on gender equality and diversity do not align with [its] values”.
Its statement said it would have preferred not “to have taken this step, but now is the time for action – not just talk”.
“Snow Medical wants to partner with the organisations we fund to challenge and change current culture and systems. We are committed to working with the University of Melbourne and our other partners to ensure real change happens,” the statement read.
Chair of Snow Medical Tom Snow told ABC Radio earlier this week (Tuesday, 8 March) that it wasn’t good enough.
“I think about all those young women, and all those young people who are not white and they look at those people and that image of six white men and they [receive] the message that no matter how hard you work, men will be rewarded ahead of you,” he said.
“Are you going to tell me that only three women are as good as all those men? I just don’t think so, and I think the reality is women and people who are not white are sick of being passed over, particularly in this sector.”
In a statement in response, the University of Melbourne acknowledged there was room for improvement, but said Snow Medical’s decision had been taken on the basis of a single event and was not representative of the steps it is taking to “build a diverse university community, reflective of broader society”.
It pointed to its recent Diversity and Inclusion Strategy which it said “supports a vision to create a thriving, fair and diverse university community”.
According to the university, since 2019, five of the six most recent senior leadership appointments within its executive team are women – including the provost, three deans and the first deputy vice-chancellor (people and community).
The foundation will honour its commitment to existing Snow Fellowships awarded to the University of Melbourne and will work with the university to address its lack of diversity.
“Everyone’s good at talking the talk. It’s time to walk the walk and get on with fixing it,” Mr Snow said.