U of T Launches Working Group to Combat Antisemitism on Campus

Dec. 10, 2020

By RAHUL KALVAPALLE

The University of Toronto has launched an Anti-Semitism Working Group to examine and address anti-Semitism on campus, and to ensure the university is an inclusive and welcoming place for Jewish members of its community.

The working group, whose contributions will form an integral part of the university’s commitment to addressing systemic forms of racism across its three campuses, including Islamophobia and anti-Black racism, will make recommendations to U of T President Meric Gertler, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat.

Led by Arthur Ripstein, a University Professor in the Faculty of Law and in the department of philosophy, the working group will review the processes and practices in place to address antisemitism on U of T’s three campuses and develop a framework to support the university’s response to the issue.

It will recommend ways to improve education about antisemitism and responses to antisemitic incidents, as well as propose new programs and initiatives to eliminate antisemitism on-campus.

It will also examine best practices at other large, research-intensive universities and consult with students, faculty, librarians and staff about how to create an inclusive environment that welcomes and supports community members who are Jewish.

“Our aim is to see to it that the university not only responds when there are incidents or allegations of antisemitism, but is also proactive in creating a culture of inclusion within which various forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, are better understood and tackled through education,” Ripstein said.

“Antisemitism is like other forms of discrimination in some ways, and different from them in other ways. The point of having working groups that examine multiple types of injustice and discrimination in our university is to come up with strategies for dealing with not just the general problem, but also its particular manifestation.”

Antisemitism “is a source of discrimination, harassment and hatred that undermines our values,” Hannah-Moffat said. “U of T recognizes that we need to be more proactive and responsive to address it on our campuses.

“No form of discrimination is tolerated at the University of Toronto.”

Ripstein said consultations with the U of T community will be key to the working group’s efforts and that information provided by the community will help shape its recommendations.

“Our main work will be, in the first instance, listening to and seeking input from members of the university community. We want to hear about their concerns and instances of antisemitism of which they think we should be made aware,” he said.

“As a university, the way we deal with problems is to study them. And so, our first task is going to be to study the problem and think about ways to manage it within the context of the university’s broader commitment to being a place where difficult questions can be addressed and considered in a respectful and inclusive manner.”

Ripstein invited members of the U of T community to share their feedback by emailing the Anti-Semitism Working Group at anti.semitism.working.group@utoronto.ca.

In addition to Ripstein, the members of the working group are:

· Miriam Borden, PhD student, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures in the Faculty of Arts & Science

· Shauna Brail, Associate Professor, Institute for Management & Innovation, U of T Mississauga

· Ayelet Kuper, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

· Faye Mishna, Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

· Anna Shternshis, Al and Malka Green Professor of Yiddish and Diaspora Studies, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, Faculty of Arts & Science; and Director, Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies

· Nouman Ashraf, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Rotman School of Management

· Anita Balakrishna, Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

· Karima Hashmani, Executive Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Division of HR & Equity

· Jodie Glean, Director, Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office and Project Manager, Anti-Semitism Working Group.

– Reprinted with permission from UofT News.

U of T Hiring Controversy Continues to Swirl

Oct. 20, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

Jewish groups are urging the University of Toronto’s law school to stand firm and not employ a scholar with a long history of criticizing Israel.

Valentina Azarova

At least two Jewish U of T faculty, B’nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, and Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights are calling on U of T to refuse to hire Valentina Azarova to lead the law school’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP).

U of T professors Stuart Kamenetsky and Howard Tenenbaum have started a petition arguing Azarova’s long history of targeting Israel in her writings make her unfit for the appointment.

“Frankly, we believe that she should not even have been considered as a candidate to lead the IHRP,” the professors say in their preamble.

In a news release, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn called Azarova’s past associations “worrying,” adding her body of writing is “overwhelmingly devoted, arguably obsessively committed” to Palestinian causes.

“Far from being an impartial academic, as she is often portrayed, Azarova is actively devoted to using a wide variety of platforms to promulgate anti-Israel advocacy,” Mostyn said.

Azarova and her supporters claim she was offered a position as director of the IHRP but that the offer was withdrawn after a Jewish mega-donor objected.

The controversy grew so intense that the university agreed to an “impartial review” of how the law school has handled the affair.

And the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is threatening the school with censure.

At the same time, the Tax Court of Canada judge whose alleged interference in the hiring process ignited the affair is being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council. 

Law school dean Edward Iacobucci has denied that a formal employment offer was ever made to Azarova because of immigration difficulties.

Azarova’s supporters allege the university reneged on the deal because Justice David Spiro of the Tax Court objected to her history of legal writing that has accused Israel of widespread violations of Palestinian human rights. Spiro and his extended family are major donors to the university.

CAUT says if the allegation of donor interference in the appointment is true, it violates the principle of academic freedom.

On Oct. 15, CAUT’s executive council passed a motion approving a process of censuring U of T if “satisfactory steps” are not taken.

The imposition of censure still requires the approval of CAUT’s governing body. That meeting is set for Nov. 27.

Censure by the association would ask its more than 70,000 members at 125 universities and colleges across the country to refuse appointments, speaking engagements or honours at the University of Toronto.

In addition, CAUT will also “widely publicize” the dispute and ask associations of academic staff in other countries to respect the censure.

“The facts that have emerged strongly suggest the decision to cancel Azarova’s appointment was politically motivated, and as such would constitute a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom,” CAUT executive director David Robinson said in an Oct. 15 statement.

In an earlier letter to U of T president Meric Gertler, Robinson said that “an institution of higher learning fails to fulfill its purpose and mission if it accedes to outside pressure or asserts the power to proscribe ideas, no matter how controversial.”

CAUT’s voice is only part of the chorus condemning the situation around Azarova’s hiring. The entire advisory board to the International Human Rights Program, and a member of the search committee, resigned in protest. Lawyers and academics from around the world have expressed anger.

Last week, for example, a letter signed by nine U of T law school faculty accused Iacobucci of “high handed” management that threatens to destroy the institution’s reputation.

Another letter to Gertler from 200 international law and human rights practitioners and law school faculty and staff said the signers were “deeply concerned” the dean allowed external pressure to influence an appointment.

They called for an investigation of the affair, reinstatement of the offer to Azarova, sanctions against those responsible at the university, and apologies to Azarova and affected faculty and staff.

Iacobucci has never denied that a donor contacted the school about the potential appointment. In a letter to law school faculty released by the university, he called claims of outside interference “untrue and objectionable.”

He added: “Other considerations, including political views for and against any candidate, or their scholarship, were and are irrelevant.”

University leaders have backed that position since September, but on Oct. 14, they announced an independent review of the controversy to be led by Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Council of Ontario Universities.

In a statement on the university’s website, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president of human resources and equity, said Patterson is to “review all relevant documents and conduct interviews in order to provide (a) a comprehensive factual narrative of events pertaining to the search committee process and (b) the basis for the decision to discontinue the candidacy of the search committee’s preferred candidate.”

Participation in the review is voluntary and Patterson’s recommendations will be made public. Her report is due in January.

The terms of reference for the review have drawn derision from commentators, however.

James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, told the CJR that “there’s not much investigation left to do” because the facts of the case are already well known.

Both Turk and Robinson criticized the review’s terms of reference, noting they do not include the central question of whether Azarova was offered a job or whether improper pressure scuttled an offer.

And a review of the affair by Hannah-Moffat, Iacobucci, and U of T provost Cheryl Regehr is also troubling because all three have been involved in the scandal, Turk said.

“Any first year law student would know this is just crazy,” he said.

In a news release, Robinson of the CAUT said the proposed study’s flaws undermine its credibility.

“Given the seriousness of the case, what is needed is an independent review,” he said in a news release. “Instead we have a deeply flawed review where the investigator is appointed by and reports to the Vice-President for Human Resources who has already publicly defended the Dean’s decision to terminate the hiring of Dr. Azarova.”

To see Prof. Azarova’s curriculum vitae, click here: https://cdn.ku.edu.tr/resume/vazarova.pdf

For Zack Babins’ view on the Azarova controversy, click here.