U of T has announced that Jutta Brunnée, the dean of the Faculty of Law, has resumed the search for a director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) after the conclusion of the previous hiring process led to a months-long controversy. Professor Emerita Rebecca Cook will continue to serve as Interim Director of the IHRP until the position is filled. 

The announcement to look for a new director comes months after the search committee ultimately decided not to grant the position to Dr. Valentina Azarova, their original choice for director. This occurred after a judge expressed concerns about her work on Israel and Palestine, leading to allegations of external interference. However, Former Supreme Court Justice Thomas Albert Cromwell’s report on the situation claims that immigration concerns were the primary factor in the decision to end Azarova’s candidacy, not the judge’s influence. 

New search process outlined

The university will go forward with posting advertisements for the position for the required four weeks. The memo stresses that the hiring process will comply with immigration and work authorization law.

A new search committee has also been established, chaired by Brunnée. In an email to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote: “It is important that the search committee be beyond reproach. Dean Brunnee has decided to personally chair the search committee.”

The previous search committee’s preferred candidate was Dr. Azarova. The spokesperson also confirmed that Brunnée “has been in touch with the preferred candidate to inform her of her decision to resume the process.”

The memo states that the new committee will focus on assessing “[the] qualifications of Canadian candidates.” Previously, the search committee’s top three choices were located outside of Canada and only one out of the three was a Canadian citizen.

The university clarified that while it previously required the position to be filled by September 2020 — which it claims prevented Azarova, who was living in Germany at the time, from being hired — the new process would not have the same time constraints. It added that the university will work to resolve any immigration or authorization issues that might arise. 

Reactions to the announcement 

The circumstances surrounding Azarova’s terminated candidacy led to the ongoing censure of the university by the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT). Despite the announcement that a new search process will begin soon, the organization continues to demand that the university re-offer the position to Azarova as a condition for the censure to be lifted.

Contrary to the university’s statement, Vincent Wong, a former IHRP research assistant and member of the previous search committee, claimed that the September 2020 deadline was never discussed by members of the committee. He added that given that the committee’s top two candidates were both international, the selection committee didn’t expect the director to arrive until December. 

Wong concluded that if the IHRP hires a candidate without addressing the academic freedom concerns of the CAUT and the public, it will continue to be a “pariah.”