SPME on the censure by the Canadian Association of University Teachers of the University of Toronto regarding Valentina Azarova

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Following our December 4th statement on Valentina Azarova, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is now expressing its deep concern about the censure by the Canadian Association of University Teachers of the University of Toronto.

For starters, we wish to express our strong support for the University of Toronto for its acceptance of the measured and meticulous report of former Supreme Court of Justice Thomas Cromwell on the Independent Review of the Search Process for the Directorship of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law. That report found that the decision not to hire Valentina Azarova as Director of the Program (a staff position), despite her recommendation by the search committee, was proper and justified. That said, we unequivocally reject the censure by the Canadian Association of University of Teachers (CAUT) of the University.

We observe an entire industry of activism emanating from the failures of Arab invasions to destroy Israel.  Those who refuse acceptance of a Jewish state in the Middle East have turned from invasion to terrorism, and on campuses, in particular, to double standards, demonization and delegitimization.

The delegitimization campaign often camouflages with a supposed scholarship component, portraying the very existence of Israel as a violation of more or less every international legal standard in the canon. Valentina Azarova is one of this coterie of extreme anti-Israel activists using scholarship as a form of Israel bashing.

CAUT based its censure on its conclusion of outside interference in the decision not to hire Valentina Azarova as director of the Faculty of Law International Human Rights Program.  That conclusion is based on a false narrative.

The false narrative is this:  The University had decided to hire Azarova and made her an offer.  A major Jewish donor heard of the appointment, called the University, and threatened to withdraw funding unless the appointment was cancelled, which it then was.

This narrative, which echoes classical antisemitic myths, is wildly divorced from the facts.  The facts are these:

1)  A search committee recommended Valentina Azarova for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto;

2)  The committee did not have the legal authority to hire Azarova for the position;

3) The senior search committee member, identified as Selection Committee Member 1 in the Cromwell report, had a history of very strong politically one‑sided criticism of Israel;

4) The search committee gave no consideration and had no discussion of the highly intolerant history of anti‑Israel writings, activities and associations of Valentina Azarova;

5)  The search committee gave no consideration to the hostile atmosphere which would be created in the University, the bias and the threat to academic freedom which would be created in the Program to have such a director;

6) Valentina Azarova formally was ineligible for the position because she is a foreigner who could not get the necessary visa because there were qualified Canadians who applied for the job;

7)  The search committee devised some implausible and highly problematic schemes to attempt to circumvent normal Canadian immigration requirements which was bound to go nowhere;

8) Valentina Azarova did not meet the essential advertised requirement of the position because she is not licensed to practice law anywhere;

9) In principle, the search committee work should have ended with their recommendation.  The senior member of the search committee nonetheless aggressively lobbied the Dean of the Law School to appoint Azarova to the recommended position;

10) There is no evidence of any donor, large or small, having called the Faculty of Law or any other component of the University to object to the recommendation of the search committee.

11) There was no outside interference by anyone in the decision of the University not to offer the director position to Azarova.

12)  The University at no time made a formal legal offer to Azarova for the position;

13) The University decided not to accept the recommendation of the search committee because Valentina Azarova did not meet Canadian immigration requirements.

14)  The University was also concerned that Valentina Azarova did not meet an essential advertised requirement for the position.

15)  These two considerations, the immigration and advertised requirements, were the only considerations which led to the decision not to accept the recommendation of the search committee.

16)  The dubious academic, associational history of Azarova, her history of intolerance, the absence of any consideration of that history by the search committee, the harm that a person with that history would inflict on the University and the Program, as much as they should have, played no part in the decision of the University not to hire Azarova.

17) A former Supreme Court of Canada judge Thomas Cromwell did an independent expert review of the search process in meticulous, irrefutable detail.  The review did not address the scholarship and associational history of Azarova, her history of intolerance, the absence of any discussion of that history by the search committee, or the history of the search committee senior member. All other facts set out above the former Justice did address and confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt.

On what then is the false narrative on which CAUT acted based?  Coincidentally, after the search committee recommendation for Azarova and before the University decided not to hire her, a University Vice President called an alumnus about alumni affairs.  The alumnus had heard of the search committee recommendation and made the incidental remark during this conversation that the appointment would be controversial and could cause reputational harm, an understatement in light of the record of Azarova.  He added that the University needed to exercise due diligence in the hiring for the director. These incidental and, in the circumstances, appropriate, remarks were passed on to the Law School Dean, whose only reaction was dismay that the confidentiality of the search committee recommendation had been breached. And that was all.

One would have to be blind to reality to adopt the narrative of interference which came out of these incidental remarks in a University initiated call on another matter from someone outside the Faculty of Law.   But that in fact is what happened.

CAUT fabricates a pretend interference, which never happened, to justify its own interference which is obviously happening. The alumnus was not guilty of any interference. But CAUT surely is. CAUT has no business telling the University whom it should be hiring.  Yet, that is the current position of CAUT, that the University should offer the director position to Azarova.

The CAUT censure is more than just an inappropriate suggestion. It is bullying, a coercion, a form of blackmail. CAUT is calling on its members to boycott the University of Toronto unless the University hires the candidate CAUT has decided to favor.

This interference would have been inappropriate no matter what the history of the candidate. The fact that the object of CAUT interference is an extreme, intolerant Israel basher and the position that CAUT presumes to tell the University she should have involves a Program which she could turn into a Western outpost of radicalized anti‑Zionism makes the CAUT position even more outrageous.

The CAUT attempt to force the University to hire anyone is unjustified, inexcusable and disgraceful. It needs an unequivocal rejection from the University and from scholars everywhere.  We urge scholars everywhere to stand with the University of Toronto against this coercion and undue outside interference by CAUT.

SPME on the censure by the Canadian Association of University Teachers of the University of Toronto regarding Valentina Azarova

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SPME

Scholars for Peace in the Middle East (SPME) is not-for-profit [501 (C) (3)], grass-roots community of scholars who have united to promote honest, fact-based, and civil discourse, especially in regard to Middle East issues. We believe that ethnic, national, and religious hatreds, including anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, have no place in our institutions, disciplines, and communities. We employ academic means to address these issues.

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