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It is hardly conceivable to appoint a person of Azarova’s rabid anti-Israeli stance to head a program devoted to, of all things, the subject of International Human Rights

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Since Valentina Azarova has never been a member of the Faculty of Law at the U of T, claims she was denied her academic freedom as a member of the faculty was false. (Photo Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law)

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I studied social sciences in the 60’s at the Université de Montréal and at the University of Pennsylvania and taught sociology and criminology for six years. In those days no one made a big fuss about academic freedom. The concept was well understood and was very rarely, if ever, invoked. The reason for this was quite simple: Teachers taught in a manner becoming of an academic: without politicising the subject matter or injecting into the subject matter personal political or ideological positions. And those were the days when Quebec separatism made the headlines.

And if, on a controversial theoretical point, some students wrote an essay or an examination adopting a position contrary to that of the professor, they did not get penalized .In fact those who wrote and argued well and at times creatively, received the professors’ praise in front of the class.

I have been told by some students that if nowadays I were to walk into a faculty of social sciences and engaged with the professors and students and attended some classes on subjects that intersect with controversial political current issues, I would not recognise the place as my old home grounds.

Nowadays, the phrase “academic freedom” seems to have become the last refuge of academics, as Joe Pisano put it “purveyors of putrid poppycock” against Israel.

And I would describe the actions and threats of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) to be an abuse of the classical concept of academic freedom particularly since an indeterminate number of its members slant their courses along their ideological positions that that have little to do with academic freedom and much to do with their respective authoritarian political outlook.

One of the targets of such ideological/political thrust which is quite fashionable these days is Israel bashing.

The very notion of demanding the appointment Valentina Azarova as the Head of the International Human Rights Program of the University of Law Faculty, says more about the CAUT than about the sound judgment of Edward Iacobucci, Dean of the Faculty of Law, not to appoint her to that position based on the well-founded objections and grounds to her appointment which he may not have been aware of or had not thought through these grounds.

First of all, since Azarova is not and has never been a member of the Faculty of Law, there can be no question of her being denied her academic freedom as a member of the faculty.

Second, having regard to the nature and scope of her irrational Israel bashing, not to say more, the decision not to hire her stands for the principle that since there are no grounds to believe that upon her appointment she will repudiate her past inexcusable behaviour, Dean Iacobucci was not prepared to appoint someone who was going to abuse her academic freedom in service of her unwarranted hostilities towards Israel or her hatred of the country.

Third, given the large number of students at the University of Toronto who are Jewish, her appointment and pronouncements would have likely violated the Canadian principles and values of diversity, multiculturalism and inclusion, especially now that the Province of Ontario adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Fourth, it is hardly conceivable to appoint a person of Azarova’s rabid anti-Israeli stance to head a program devoted to, of all things, the subject of International Human Rights.

The person appointed to this position as to any academic position, ideally must be: one committed to empirical objectivity and a detached critical thinker with strong dispassionate analytical abilities able to present students complex situations in a clear and a balanced manner.

Just as importantly, I must also be someone open to constructive and creative in seeking out possible solutions and alternatives, in this instance, with respect to the human right issues raised in the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Surely given Valentina Azarova’s track record on these issues to date, she is hardly the right person for the job.

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I suspect that the search committee which identified Azarova as the right candidate for the job, let down both the Dean Iacobucci and the university, by failing to do a thorough job in vetting her background by failing to read thoroughly all her writings and publication and bringing these to the attention of the Dean.

Then again, her writings about Israel may have struck them as déjà vu, nothing to write home about nowadays.

As far as the accusations of political interference are concerned, surely no one expected the members of the Jewish community, the community itself and its organisations to sit on their hands and do nothing about an impending disaster.

Freedom in an open democratic society is not a one way street. If the CAUT can argue about academic freedom, surely in this instance the members of the Jewish community, the community itself and its organisations enjoy countervailing freedom, which in this instance was exercised by letting now the Dean about what he was getting into and why he ought to re-consider the matter in the light of the information provided to him.

And who is to say that academic freedom carries a greater weight than the freedom exercised by the Jewish community and its organisations or for that matter any other community and its organisations to prevent a very ill- advised appointment that would not serve well and, most importantly, the students in the program.

No one can or should.

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a Judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and occupied the positions of Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the Federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings are to be found in various publications and in blogs.  

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Happy reading!

Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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