Faculty for Academic Freedom at UofT

We are a group of faculty members at UofT. We come from units including Law, Political Science, History, Women & Gender Studies, Indigenous Studies, Religion, Environment, Geography & Planning, Social Work and OISE. Our group includes faculty who are Black, Indigenous, Jewish, Muslim and People of Colour. We all care deeply about the university and its future. We are working together to defend the University’s own vital Statement of Institutional Purpose, which insists:

The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.
Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.
It is this human right to radical, critical teaching and research with which the University has a duty above all to be concerned; for there is no one else, no other institution and no other office, in our modern liberal democracy, which is the custodian of this most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.

The University of Toronto believes that it best serves Canada and the wider world by pursuing to the limit of its abilities its fundamental mandates of research and teaching in the spirit of academic freedom. In seeking to achieve the above objectives, the University of Toronto is committed to four principles:

  1. Respect for intellectual integrity, freedom of enquiry and rational discussion;
  2. Promotion of equity and justice within the University and recognition of the diversity of the University community;
  3. A collegial form of governance;
  4. Fiscal responsibility and accountability.

While not all of us are able to be public in this work because of uneven vulnerabilities, our members include:

Abigail Bakan
Joe Carens
Deborah Cowen
Anver Emon
Mohammad Fadel
Kanishka Goonewardena
Trudo Lemmens
Jeffrey Macintosh
Ruth Marshall
Melanie Newton
Denise Réaume
David Schneiderman
Judith Taylor
Melissa Williams

What happened at the Faculty of Law?

On April 22, 2021, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT imposed censure on the University of Toronto over its decision to terminate the candidacy of Dr. Valentina Azarova for the Directorship of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the Faculty of Law. The consequences of censure are detailed here. The President’s response is here.

The University tried to stave off censure by commissioning a report on the controversy from former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell. The report is flawed by factual inaccuracy and misleading assertions. It failed in the ambition to exonerate the administration. In some ways, it made matters worse.

The history: In September, 2020, then Dean of Law, Ed Iacobucci terminated the hiring process for the Director of the IHRP. Dr. Valentina Azarova was the unanimous and enthusiastic choice of the selection committee, but negotiations to finalize an offer to her were abruptly cut off after communications from a wealthy alumnus, donor, and sitting judge made plain that some donors would not tolerate the appointment of someone whose scholarship included study of Israeli conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories. Members of the search committee, and the Program Advisory Committee, resigned in protest. Complaints against the conduct of the alumnus—a sitting Federal judge—were lodged with the Canadian Judicial Council.

Cromwell was commissioned to determine the basis for the Dean’s decision not to proceed with Azarova’s appointment. Cromwell declined to draw any inference that the Dean may have been improperly influenced in his decision. The University’s response trumpeted the report as vindication of (now former) Dean Iacobucci. President Gertler also fully embraces policy recommendations in the report that would have destructive effects across the University. This response has been now been echoed by the newly appointed Dean, Jutta Brunnée. 

Cromwell’s assessment is comically inept. Here is an executive summary of one critique of his error-laded document; the full analysis is here. Professor Joe Carens, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, U of T provides another take on the report: executive summaryfull essay. Those interested in a deep dive will find informative Caren’s annotations to the Cromwell Report. And Professor Richard Moon, Faculty of Law, University of Windsor exposes information of which Cromwell was aware, but declined to pursue. 

Not only does Cromwell absolve the former Dean, he does what he can to downplay the shocking attempt by a wealthy donor to derail a University appointment by treating it as a simple ‘heads up’ to university officials about the unacceptability of a hiring decision to “the Jewish community”. Professor Anver Emon provides a detailed analysis of this part of the report here. The bare facts outlined in the report reveal outside VIPs putting in ‘a quiet word with University officials.’ Yet the University does not seriously acknowledge the need for change. 

A further dangerous aspect of Cromwell’s report is its recommendations about confidentiality – these would make it harder in future for a whistleblower to reveal interference with a search. Professor Ariel Katz provides a critique of this part of the report here.

Though the reasons offered in September for terminating the process no longer have purchase, the University has so far refused to simply offer Dr. Azarova the job. Doing so seems the least the University can do, unless it wants to reinforce the impression that donors, not academics, call the shots at U of T.

All in all, the Cromwell report is a disaster for academic integrity and academic freedom; the University’s response is deeply worrying. Censure is not imposed lightly by the CAUT. The University would have us believe that there is nothing there; that CAUT is being unreasonable. Don’t buy it, at least not without seeing for yourself whether the Cromwell report describes an institution of which you want to be a part. 

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