Open Letter to UofT on the Hiring Scandal: Reinstate the Offer to Dr. Azarova

We are writing today to call on the University of Toronto and its Faculty of Law to reinstate immediately the offer to Dr. Valentina Azarova to serve as the next Director of the International Human Rights Program. The Cromwell Report concluded that she was the “strong, unanimous, and enthusiastic first choice of the selection committee”. Moreover, the proffered reason for retracting the offer — the timing of the work permit — is no longer relevant.  

While the Cromwell Report does not conclude that there was “improper outside influence” in the ultimate decision made by the Dean of the Faculty of Law, it does bring to light a number of concerning issues in its factual narrative that confirm there was attempted outside influence in the recruitment processes. The Cromwell Report clearly establishes the following facts:

1.       A major donor and alumnus, who is named in the report through being identified in the media as sitting judge Justice Spiro, had information about a confidential hiring process, including the name of the Preferred Candidate, Dr. Valentina Azarova, determined by the Faculty of Law’s Selection Committee (p. 32).

2.       The alumnus raised concerns on a phone call with UofT’s Assistant Vice President (AVP) about the hiring of Dr. Azarova because of her published works on Israel (p. 33).

3.       The AVP understood that Justice Spiro was concerned that this candidate would be controversial and would cause reputational harm to the university (p. 32).

4.       The AVP relayed Justice Spiro’s concerns to the Assistant Dean Alumni and Development at the Faculty of Law, stating that the hiring of Dr. Azarova would be controversial in the Jewish community (p. 33).

5.       The Assistant Dean Alumni and Development spoke with the Dean of the Faculty of Law about concerns raised by Justice Spiro about the hiring of Dr. Azarova (p. 33).

These facts demonstrate that the University of Toronto failed to maintain the integrity of its recruitment process. In addition to the reputational harm this scandal has caused Dr. Azarova and her family, it also caused harm to members of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and Jewish communities. The assertion that her hire would cause reputational harm to the University because she supports Palestinian human rights is an insult to Palestinians and those who identify with and support their just cause. Anti-Palestinianism cannot be separated from Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. Justice Spiro’s apparent interference was not only an act of censorship against Dr. Azarova, but it also communicated that public advocacy for Palestinian human rights is not tolerated at the University of Toronto. 

That the Cromwell Report considered it outside of its scope to make a determination on the germane matter of whether or not attempted outside interference was appropriate is disappointing. The report limits itself to determining whether the Dean’s decision to not hire Dr. Azarova was influenced by Justice Spiro’s attempt to interfere in the process. We believe the facts regarding outside influence laid out in the Cromwell Report reveal a broken system that lacks accountability.

If the University is committed to genuine reconciliation after this scandal, offering the position to Dr. Azarova is a necessary first step.

As endorsed by the undersigned:

  1. The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM)
  2. Canadian Arab Institute (CAI)
  3. Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME)
  4. Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV)
  5. Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA)