In a recent statement on the Ryerson University website, president Mohamed Lachemi emphasized that the university “does not avoid controversies, difficult ideas or disagreements over deeply held ideas.”
The university also lists freedom of speech and human rights as core values.
I haven’t seen evidence of any of the above in the past week.
Since Monday’s exclusive Toronto Sunstory on the complaint by Rebecca Katzman that the treatment she said she received at the hands of the faculty of social work was anti-Semitic, the university has run for cover — refusing to admit it did not handle the situation properly and instead chose to try discredit both Katzman and me.
The story, which details how the 22-year-old Katzman was refused a third-year placement at the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre (JCC) and/or the United Jewish Appeal (UJA), has gone viral on social media and on blogs throughout Canada and the United States since being published in the Sun.
According to a series of e-mails from August and September of 2015 — obtained by the Sun — Katzman’s field placement coordinator, Heather Bain, advised her that the two well-respected Jewish agencies were not only “in opposition” to the values of the School of Social Work but that both agencies would not be pursued because they have a “strong anti-Palestinian lean.”
When Katzman — with the assistance of the campus advocacy group StandWithUs — indicated in an e-mail one week later she’d booked a meeting with then-president Sheldon Levy (who ended up not showing), Bain backtracked in a Sept. 9, 2015 e-mail, insisting that the school of social work does not require their partner agencies to “align with Palestinian solidarity movements” and apologizing for providing “misinformed information.”
Katzman confirmed that at no time did anyone in the faculty offer to place her at either agency — not in her third year or fourth year.
This is where it gets interesting.
In response to an e-mail I sent to Lachemi’s office for comment, Ryerson posted a statement on its website responding to “allegations” against the School of Social Work by the Sun (even though we had copies of Bain’s e-mails).
They also claimed they’d responded within one week in 2015, even though the e-mails prove it took exactly two weeks for Bain to respond and apologize, and only after Levy (the president) was brought into the picture.
But the best is this contention: “We also offered to place the student at the agency she originally requested.”
When I questioned spokesman Michael Forbes about when the offer was made, he responded by e-mail that the offer “was sent via e-mail” to Katzman “in early October (2015).”
He didn’t say who sent it.
When I asked to see the e-mail as proof, Forbes contended they “can’t disclose the e-mail due to privacy of personal information.”
There has been no further response from Forbes in the past 24 hours after Katzman e-mailed him twice to give her permission for the e-mail’s release.
That suggests to me there is no e-mail.
Katzman, who has been “very overwhelmed” by the outpouring of support from social work colleagues and other students who have experienced similar issues, said Ryerson’s statement made matter “worse.
“They should have acknowledged that the situation took place … these are not allegations,” she said.
Meryle Kates, executive director of StandWithUs Canada, said she’s not the least bit surprised by the overwhelming response.
“I’ve been hearing horror stories from students for 10 years,” she said. “Anti-Semitism in the school of social work is endemic… but Ryerson is only one of so many campuses that have been overrun with this toxicity.”
Let me add that despite Ryerson’s efforts to bunker down and hope the controversy will blow over, it is not going away.