A top international and environmental law scholar who has been chosen as the new dean of the University of Toronto’s law school will begin her tenure as the university is threatened with censure over its handling of the aborted hiring of a director for the school’s international human-rights program.
Jutta Brunnée, who currently holds a chair in environmental law at U of T and is a former associate dean of graduate studies in the faculty of law, will begin a five-year term as dean in January. She replaces Edward Iacobucci, who announced earlier this year that he would leave the post before completing his second five-year term.
The university’s office of media relations declined an interview request on Prof. Brunnée’s behalf, saying she preferred to wait until her term begins in January before speaking publicly.
One of the issues the new dean will face is how to address the future of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP).
Earlier this week, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) announced its council had passed a motion to begin the censure process against the University of Toronto over its handling of the aborted hiring of Dr. Valentina Azarova. The university now has six months to address CAUT concerns before censure is imposed.
Censure, which is often threatened but rarely invoked, is a measure that, among other things, asks academics not to accept appointments or speaking engagements at the offending institution.
According to a report prepared by CAUT, Dr. Azarova was offered the IHRP director’s job in August only to have the offer rescinded following an intervention by a sitting judge. Allegations surfaced that the appointment was blocked over concerns about Dr. Azarova’s work on Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories.
“The facts that have emerged strongly suggest the decision to cancel Dr. Azarova’s appointment was politically motivated, and as such would constitute a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom,” the CAUT report says.
Dean Iacobucci has denied that an offer was made to Dr. Azarova and denied that he rescinded the offer because of political interference from a judge.
The University of Toronto has called its own inquiry into the Azarova affair, led by former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson. The university has already amended the format of the inquiry once following an outcry from faculty who said it lacked transparency and procedural fairness.
Last month, a group of more than two dozen law professors from across the country wrote to U of T president Meric Gertler to raise what they describe as “deep concerns” about the process and ask that it be altered again. The letter said there are issues around impartiality, since Prof. Patterson was selected by the same administrators whose conduct could face scrutiny in the inquiry. It also raised concerns about procedural fairness and a lack of whistle-blowing protections for participants.
Dr. Gertler replied to the letter by saying that he thought the review would be “fair, evidence-based and independent.” He added that a central purpose would be to establish facts, “which currently do not benefit from a shared understanding.”
The report is expected to be completed a few weeks after Prof. Brunnée’s tenure as dean begins.
In an e-mail announcing the dean’s appointment, Provost Cheryl Regehr said that Prof. Brunnée, during her tenure as an administrator, was “noted for her ability to guide the faculty through change in a calm, careful, and consensus-building manner.”
Prof. Brunnée is the author of a recent book on climate change law and, as Prof. Regehr put it, “has received virtually every international honour in her field.”
Robert Nanni, president of the Students’ Law Society, said he welcomes the new appointment, calling it “a good time for change.”
“The law school needs a leader willing to engage with students to a high degree,” Mr. Nanni said.
He said he looks forward to raising issues of equity and accessibility with the new dean, particularly around tuition fees, diversity and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.
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