Ultra Vires


Governing Council Discusses the Future of the IHRP

President Gertler is hopeful the IHRP director hiring controversy is moving towards a resolution

On June 24, 2021, the Governing Council of the University of Toronto met for the final time of the 2020-2021 academic year. Though not on the meeting agenda, the Governing Council discussed the ongoing Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) censure of the university, sparked by the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) director hiring controversy

During his report to the Governing Council, President Meric Gertler summarized the Faculty of Law’s June 7 announcement that Dean Jutta Brunnée is resuming the hiring process for the Director of the IHRP. The position remains the same as last year and has been reposted to comply with immigration and Canadian work authorization requirements. The search previously identified a “preferred candidate,” Valentina Azarova, who many believe should be hired. 

In her announcement, the Dean noted that the University is required by law to follow a rigorous process in order to consider Canadian and non-Canadian candidates. A new search committee has been established and will be chaired by the Dean. 

President Gertler commented that the “issue of time pressure, which figured largely and prominently back in the original search last fall has been addressed by securing the agreement of Professor Emerita Rebecca Cook to continue to serve as Interim Director until a permanent director has been named.” 

In his remarks, President Gertler emphasized that the search was resumed following the completion of a listening tour and consultation with all members of the Faculty of Law, led by Dean Brunnée, and a review of the IHRP led by Professor Cook with recommendations on strengthening the IHRP’s programming. “Now that these important consultations have occurred and the search has resumed, we are hopeful that this matter is moving towards resolution,” commented President Gertler. 

To conclude his remarks, President Gerler updated the Council on two University commitments. Firstly, the University is currently undertaking a “comprehensive review” of its advancement policies and guidelines, including working with all university advancement professionals to ensure that their practices are “fully informed by the findings of the Cromwell report.” Secondly, the University has committed to creating an advisory group co-chaired by the Provost and Vice-President (Human Resources & Equity) to consider possible protections required for professional staff associated with experiential, clinical education programs. 

During the question period, Part-Time Undergraduate Student Governor Susan Froom asked President Gertler to define the scope and applicability of academic freedom, specifically if academic freedom at the University of Toronto does not extend to non-academic staff. She added that this was referenced in “some emails from the administration.” Governor Froom was unsure how this would be consistent with the University’s policy on freedom of speech, which she notes extends academic freedom to all University members. 

In response, President Gertler distinguished between the CAUT and U of T’s policies on academic freedom. According to CAUT’s policy statement on academic freedom for academic administrators, there is a need for all post-secondary institutions administrators who are continuous members of their institution’s academic staff to have academic freedom. Further, all academic administrators staff, irrespective of rank, should enjoy similar rights of academic freedom. 

President Gertler noted that U of T’s understanding of academic freedom is “fully aligned” with CAUT, and that the University’s policy is “very strong and very clearly articulated in a number of different statements and policies of the University.” However, he explained that the IHRP’s director position is a “professional, managerial position, not an academic position, although [he] will admit that the use of the term ‘director’ associated with this position has contributed to the confusion that has characterized public discussion of this issue.” Referencing the Cromwell report, President Gertler concluded that academic freedom does not extend to professional managerial positions at U of T, “and, I have to say, at all other universities in Canada … as they are not academic positions.” 

The Cromwell report did find that in cases where professional managers might be expected to take stances on contentious issues, such as in clinical or experiential learning settings like the IHRP, these positions might require some form of protection. President Gertler referenced that the advisory committee he noted in his remarks is tasked to look into the sort of protections non-academic staff should be given.

Governor Froom also asked President Gerlter for clarity on how the University’s policies on academic freedom and advancement intersect. She commented that “in the long-run, U of T is going to rely more and more on individual and corporate donations, it’s very important that we have clear and effective policies and guidelines, and are seen to have those, which we are not right now … we should be a leader in protecting academic freedom and have lines between advancement and academic freedom.” 

President Gertler agreed with Governor Froom that it is very important to have a clear understanding of the “primacy of academic priorities and academic decision making by colleagues” found in University policies relating to advancement. From the Cromwell report, the University is taking additional efforts to ensure all their advancement staff have this understanding as well as knowledge of professional and ethical guidelines relating to advancement, including the need to maintain appropriate confidentiality during hiring searches. 

The Vice President (Advancement) has already led discussions with advancement professionals across the University, including holding two mandatory education sessions for advancement staff which were attended by more than 260 staff members. A third session is scheduled for July for those unable to make the first two sessions, and they will be repeated in the future. President Gerler remarked that these sessions demonstrate “the conviction of the University to take these issues extremely seriously.”

On the topic of the IHRP director hiring controversy, Alumni Governor Grace Ann Westcott said that she salutes President Gertler for “a very responsible and comprehensive response to the IHRP problem and the report by Mr. Justice Cromwell.” She continued that, “whatever inferences people chose to draw from his setting out of the facts … it did reveal that work needed to be done to equip advancement professionals with the tools to deal with third-party interference or attempts to be involved in the hiring process. Taking seriously that advice from Mr. Cromwell, I am very encouraged by what I have heard today.”

Governor Westcott asked President Gerlter what the “end game” is for the CAUT censure. President Gertler responded by acknowledging that it is difficult for him to discuss this topic as it involves a confidential search process but that he reiterates the search process for a new director of the IHRP has resumed, complying with all federal regulations relating to immigration and employment. This is why he is “cautiously optimistic or hopeful that this will lead to a resolution.”

Ultra Vires maintains a developing and non-exhaustive list of resources about the IHRP director hiring controversy, including official statements, letters, and opinions about the CAUT censure, available here.

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