(October 15, 2020) The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is raising serious concerns about the University of Toronto’s investigation into a hiring controversy in the Faculty of Law.
Following a competitive search for the Director of the International Human Rights Program, a hiring committee unanimously recommended Valentina Azarova. She says she was offered the job on August 11 and accepted on August 19. However, in early September, it is alleged that a sitting judge with the Tax Court of Canada raised concerns about Azarova’s appointment and her offer was subsequently revoked. The judge is also a major donor to the University.
“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,” says CAUT Executive Director David Robinson.
In response to the ongoing controversy, on October 14, the University announced the creation of an “impartial investigation” headed by Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Council of Ontario Universities.
Robinson says there are serious flaws with the scope and mandate of the investigation that undermine its credibility.
“Given the seriousness of the case, what is needed is an independent review,” he says. “Instead we have a deeply flawed review where the investigator is appointed by and reports to the Vice-President for Human Resources who has already publicly defended the Dean’s decision to terminate the hiring of Dr. Azarova.”
Robinson adds that the terms of reference do not include an assessment of important aspects of the case.
“Was Dr. Azarova offered a job, as she and the search committee claim, or not offered a job, as the Dean claims? What was the substance of the judge's intervention and the Dean's response? These questions lie at the heart of the case but are silent in the University’s statement about its investigation.”
Robinson also notes that the University’s announcement emphasizes that the search was for “a non-academic staff position within the Faculty of Law.”
“In framing it this way, it appears the University is trying to avoid any consideration of whether academic freedom might have been breached,” he states. “This should be of concern to all academic administrators at the University of Toronto who should be afforded academic freedom in their academic duties.”
The CAUT Executive Committee will be reviewing the case today and considering further actions, including sanctions against the University of Toronto.