The University of Toronto has altered its inquiry into the hiring of a new director for the International Human Rights Program in the Faculty of Law to make it more transparent after questions were raised about the fairness of the process.
University president Meric Gertler said he has followed the affair with “deep concern” and that, although he was aware of the initial format of the review before it was announced, he has decided to change course. He said that any suggestion that academic freedom has been violated “must be treated with the utmost gravity.”
Dr. Gertler said the results of the review will now be delivered to him directly and its findings and recommendations released in full, with redactions only for privacy reasons. The terms of reference remain the same.
“Some folks both inside and outside the university have raised questions about the independence, impartiality and the transparency of the review that we announced,” Dr. Gertler said in an interview. “I thought it was important to remove any doubts.”
David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which had begun censure proceedings against U of T over what it described as violations of academic freedom in this incident, said the changes are a step in the right direction, but questioned the review’s independence.
The controversy erupted in September over the hiring of a new director for the law school’s International Human Rights Program. Valentina Azarova has said she was offered the job on Aug. 11 and accepted on Aug. 19, but the offer was rescinded in early September.
The Canadian Judicial Council, a disciplinary body, is looking into complaints that Justice David Spiro of the Tax Court of Canada attempted to block the appointment over concerns about Dr. Azarova’s work on the subject of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. Justice Spiro has provided fundraising advice to the university and his extended family has donated millions.
The dean of law, Edward Iacobucci, has denied Dr. Azarova was offered the job and that he rescinded the offer because of political interference from a judge.
The program’s advisory board and a member of the search committee subsequently resigned those roles, and the future of the program was cast into doubt.
The university appointed Bonnie Patterson, a former president of Trent University and of the Council of Ontario Universities, earlier this month to lead a review. Dr. Gertler said she has been asked to produce a factual narrative of the search committee process, a report on the basis for the decision not to hire the committee’s preferred candidate, and her conclusions on whether university policies were followed.
Dr. Gertler said no one is obliged to take part, but he urged those asked for an interview to participate.
The review was initially to be delivered to the dean of the law faculty, the university’s head of human resources, and the provost. But several critics noted that some of those administrators could be subject to scrutiny. Also, the university had committed only to making the findings public, not the report itself. Dr. Gertler’s intervention addresses those two concerns.
Denise Réaume, a professor in the faculty of law, said keeping Prof. Patterson in place violates a basic principle of fairness and due process because she was selected by the administrators whose conduct could be part of her inquiry.
Mr. Robinson has said the terms of reference do not specifically address whether Dr. Azarova was offered the job, and the substance, if any, of the alleged intervention and the dean’s response.
“This issue could be resolved very easily, by offering Dr. Azarova the job that she had been offered after the hiring process,” Mr. Robinson said.
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