The University of Toronto’s department of Law is caught under fire after hiring scandal allegations come to the surface. The allegations are regarding the let down of an offer of employment to an international scholar after a judge, and a major donor to the faculty expressed concerns over her previous work, and proactivism regarding Israeli settlement on Palestinians lands. The Faculty Advisor Committee of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) started the hiring process for a position that was being offered mid-august 2020. The hiring committee all agreed that the perfect applicant was Valentina Azarova for the job position. This led to Azarova accepting her offer later that August.
Valentina Azarova is a world renowned scholar whose work focuses on human rights, also touching on violations that Israel practices towards the Palestinians. Her experience made her an exceptional candidate for this position. Later on that summer and with no particular explanation, Azarova’s offer was revoked, which has led to speculations about the reasoning of this revokement.
There are rumors against David E. Spiro, a Tax Court judge and a faculty alumnus and donor, who allegedly influenced the decision of opposing hiring Dr. Valentina Azarova over Israel and Palestine research. He claimed that her work for human rights activism towards Israel was inappropriate. As an alumnus of the Faculty of Law he was also the former member of the board of directors of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. His extended family has gone as far as donating multiple millions to the University of Toronto, and he has advised the law school on its $30-million fundraising campaign. The university has named Spiro as a faculty of Law Building Campaign Donor, and he is also on the list for the faculty’s campaign for Excellence without Barriers donor category.
It is said that after a call with Spiro, the contract was terminated simply because of work by Dr. Valentina Azarova over Israel and Palestine research. These allegations have caused an uproar on social media from the University of Toronto community to vocalize the disapproval of actions by the faculty of law at the University of Toronto regarding how this issue was handled. The story paints itself as having the university fail to give scholars the freedom of speech and academic research. The story also showcases the influence that money and donors that donate to the institution have on the hiring process. This also showcases that University of Toronto, one of the top 20 universities in the world, has failed to put aside certain political and societal agenda when in its hiring process, totally undermining the freedom and integrity in academic research.
If things were not already looking bright for the university, international human rights advocacy organization Amnesty International has ended a four-year long relationship with the University of Toronto after the controversy in which the institution has been accused for not hiring Azarova due to her views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Furthermore, two other organizations have spoken up about this case as well. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Council imposed a rare censure against the school in April after an investigation that showcased the violation of academic freedom.
Human Rights Watch has spoken out against the school saying that this particular case, “Speaks to the core of what academic freedom means and the principle that no country should be off limits for critique of its rights record. Human Rights Watch’s academic partnership with the University of Toronto law school needs to be based on upholding these values for it to continue.”
People have brought the story to light on social media and expressed their disappointment of the actions of the prestigious institution of revoking a job offer from Dr. Valentina Azarova over Israel and Palestine research. Palestinian students and the wider UofT academic community have vocalized how the institution and faculty have failed to consider, and respond to the issue on a broader spectrum than just which country individuals support. This is not about supporting a specific nation, it is about the rights for Palestinians voices and scholars to be heard. However, the University of Toronto’s actions showcase the rights to advocacy that are being undermined and delegitimized. This story and the actions of the university have left a strong impact on future students who choose to pursue law education or any degree for that matter at the University of Toronto.
by Mariam Asif – YLT Staff