Department of Geography and Planning Statement re CAUT Censure

On April 22, 2021 the Council of the Canadian Association of University Teachers took the rare step to censure the University of Toronto, because of “the Administration’s failure to resolve concerns regarding academic freedom stemming from a hiring scandal in the Faculty of Law.” The CAUT identified as its principal concern the abrupt ending of negotiations to hire Dr. Valentina Azarova as the Faculty of Law’s Director of International Human Rights Program (IHRP) “after concerns were raised by a major donor and sitting judge over Dr. Azarova’s academic work on human rights in Israel and Palestine.” The CAUT concluded that “the decision to cancel Dr. Azarova’s hiring was politically motivated and as such constitutes a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom. Details can be found on the CAUT website, in this New Yorker article, and in Ultra Vires, the Faculty of Law student newspaper.

This decision by the CAUT, one of only three instances in the past forty years, has been met with widespread international support and a growing list of cancelled events. Statements of support have been issued by units within our own university, including the School of the Environment, the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS), and the Women and Gender Studies Institute. UTFA has filed an association grievance against the administration of the University of Toronto pertaining to their actions.

The Department of Geography and Planning has previously made statements in support of Indigenous peoples and against anti-Black racism. We oppose all acts of racism and discrimination including anti-black racism, Islamophobia, settler colonialism, homophobia and transphobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, anti-Asian racism and all other forms of oppression of marginalized peoples. We also explicitly acknowledge the fundamental role that the disciplines of Geography and Planning have played, and continue to play, in processes of colonization and settler violence. As geographers and planners, we have an obligation to consider the specific geographies of these oppressions. Dr. Azarova’s research is on human rights in Israel and Palestine, and this issue has arisen in a moment of increased violence, suffering, and tragic loss of life. Palestinians in particular are subject to new and renewed levels of state-sanctioned settler violence in Gaza, Jerusalem, the West Bank and Israel proper.

In support of academic freedom and integrity, as set out in the University of Toronto’s statement of Institutional Purpose, the Department of Geography and Planning will be honouring the censure as per the suggested guidelines found in this living document developed in consultation with CAUT. In accordance with the flexibility expressed in those guidelines, we recognize that how that support unfolds across our tri-campus will reflect our unique construction as a tri-campus graduate department, built up from three independent and autonomous undergraduate units.

We also pledge to take concrete steps within the department such as co-sponsoring university-wide events on academic freedom to counter the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices on and beyond university campuses and to schedule speakers from within the university to speak at the department on matters of academic freedom and the silencing of critical research. We commit to treating this statement as a living document, which could change over time as our departmental conversation(s) about these matters, and the university’s response, take shape.

We urge the University administration to act to draw the censure to a close, and to take steps to ensure that our University functions as, and is understood to be, a place where scholars working with and about oppressed and precariously situated people are valued and protected.