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CAUT pauses censure imposed against U of T over IHRP scandal

Decision comes after law school offers Dr. Valentina Azarova position as IHRP director
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U of T re-offered the position of IHRP director to Azarova. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY
U of T re-offered the position of IHRP director to Azarova. MICHAEL PHOON/THE VARSITY

In a press release, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) announced that it will pause the censure it imposed against U of T in April this year. The CAUT wrote that it made the decision because U of T re-offered the position of director of the Faculty of Law’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP) to Dr. Valentina Azarova, though she declined the offer.

Last September, her candidacy for the position was allegedly terminated after a sitting judge and donor to the university expressed concerns about her work criticizing Israel for its policies in the occupied Palestinian territories. Concerns surrounding a potential breach of academic freedom led to the CAUT’s censure. 

The censure demanded that the CAUT’s 72,000 members — which include teachers, librarians, and academic professionals across Canada — boycott speaking engagements and appointments from U of T, and it led to a slew of cancelled events and ended partnerships

In an email to The Varsity, U of T confirmed that it re-offered the position to Azarova after it renewed the search for a director of the IHRP. Azarova’s statement added that though U of T extended academic protections to the position, she ultimately rejected the offer because “there were important uncertainties that could not be resolved in the course of negotiations.”

The CAUT wrote that Azarova’s decision was “understandable given the University’s initial reaction to the unfounded and scurrilous attacks on her reputation and her research.”

Though currently paused, the censure will not be formally lifted until the CAUT council’s next meeting on November 25 and 26. In its press release, the CAUT added that while re-offering the position to Azarova was the most urgent requirement for the censure to be lifted, there are still other concerns that need to be addressed. 

The CAUT expects the university to develop an explicit policy that will protect the academic freedom of managerial staff as well as academic staff. Moreover, it will require the university to outline procedures that will prevent any future donor interference. 

The CAUT has remained in contact with the university’s administration and is willing to discuss how these conditions might be satisfied so that the censure is officially terminated. 

A U of T spokesperson added that U of T’s Provostial Guidelines on Donations have recently been modified to emphasize “institutional autonomy and confidentiality in all hiring decisions.” 

Moreover, according to the spokesperson, the university has clarified appropriate terms for interactions with alumni and donors, and all hiring staff have attended training sessions over the past few weeks to go over guidelines for donor relations. 

The spokesperson added that an advisory group is also working on instituting academic freedom protections for managerial staff who may need to handle controversial topics. It is seeking consultations with key stakeholders and will report back in October. 

In an email to The Varsity, Samer Muscati, the former director of the IHRP, wrote that the victory was bittersweet. “The university has still not officially acknowledged any wrongdoing and has not held anyone accountable but at least they made a genuine offer to Dr. Azarova,” wrote Muscati.

Muscati believes the university’s offer to Azarova was an acknowledgment of its mistake and he hopes this will encourage community members to engage in collective action. However, he added that the university must own up to its mistake explicitly to rebuild its reputation. 

Editor’s note (September 17): The article has been edited to include comment from U of T.

Editor’s note (September 18): A previous version of this article stated that the offer to Azarova did not include protections for academic freedom, when in fact, it did.

Editor’s note (September 19): This article has been edited to include comment from Samer Muscati.