On behalf of its membership, the Executive Committee of the American Studies Association sends a message of support and solidarity to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). The CAUT is an umbrella organization of faculty associations and unions and represents over 70,000 university teachers across Canada.
On April 22, 2021, 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. Dr. Azarova was the preferred candidate for the position, and negotiations were at a late stage when the Dean unilaterally terminated the process after an influential donor communicated to university administrators concerns about Dr. Azarova’s scholarship, and especially her work on human rights violations by the Israeli state against Palestinian people. Members of the search committee and the IHRP Program Advisory Committee resigned in protest. Complaints against the conduct of the donor—a sitting federal judge—were lodged with the Canadian Judicial Council.
The termination of Dr. Azarova’s offer was a clear violation of academic freedom. The vote by CAUT council was unanimous, 79-0, and summarized as follows by CAUT executive director, David Robinson: “When reviewing all the evidence, CAUT Council delegates concluded that the decision to cancel Dr. Valentina Azarova’s hiring was politically motivated, and as such constitutes a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom.”
The main consequences of censure are as follows:
- not to accept appointments at a censured institution;
- not to accept invitations to speak or participate in academic conferences there;
- not to accept any distinction or honour that may be conferred by that institution.
The University sought to stave off censure by commissioning a report on the controversy from former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell. Although Justice Cromwell decided to exonerate the university administration’s actions in his report, his detailed descriptions of the donor interference belie any such conclusion. Several close readings of the report by law professors and others show conclusively the flawed logic and dubious claims behind Cromwell’s attempted exoneration. As a New Yorker article on the report and subsequent censure put it, the publishing of the Cromwell’s findings resembles “the release of the independent counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report on Russian interference in the U.S. Presidential election: exonerating top line, damning body text.”
Echoing the case of Professor Stephen Salaita, who was offered a tenured position at the University of Illinois and then had it withdrawn when donors objected to his views on Palestine, the aborted hiring of Dr. Azarova is an affront to the principles of academic freedom. It is yet another instance of the administration of a public university bowing to its donor class and overturning the will and intent of its faculty. It is an attempt to stifle speech and to limit the free exchange of ideas. We stand with the Canadian Association of University Teachers in condemning the actions of the President and administration of the University of Toronto and endorse and support the censure of the University of Toronto until such time as CAUT finds that corrective actions have been taken to justify the removal of the censure.
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