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A commitment to free speech

Dear U of T community,

Over the past month, many have watched with deep concern as divisions within society related to the war between Israel and Hamas have played out at King’s College Circle on our St. George Campus.

In our response, we have adhered to the University’s values and principles. Academic freedom for faculty and librarians is foundational to the University. So too are the right to assemble and protest peacefully and the right to free expression, which includes the freedom to challenge diverging and dissenting views.

When a small fraction of our community occupies a cherished common space on our campus for more than one month and denies access to those who do not share their views, U of T’s foundational principles are challenged. Such behaviour is discriminatory and runs counter to our commitment to inclusion and access as well as all the important freedoms we enshrine. 

Discovery, innovation and progress flourish when diverse perspectives can engage with one another through reasoned, evidence-based debate. The University cannot override its policy and procedures, and adopt a pre-determined conclusion guided by only one viewpoint, as this would be fundamentally at odds with free expression, fundamentals of university governance, and the consultative norms of our academic community.

Preserving the space within which academic freedom can flourish is also the reason why the University adopted new guidelines in April 2024 that say we will not choose a side on matters outside our own operations. The encampment organizers are asking us to do just that. Agreeing with the demands as presented by the protestors would create a false sense of unanimity which can discourage or fail to acknowledge opposing views at U of T.

We believe that a constructive path forward remains available through dialogue. We are in discussion with student representatives of the encampment because we care about all our students and their right to advocate for their beliefs. We have made offers that address their concerns and honour our policies that invite consultation from our community on contentious issues. At the same time, we are seeking relief through the court to end the unauthorized encampment and to re-open this space so that everyone can have the same right to express themselves without fear or a sense of exclusion. With dozens of incidents now reported to police and five arrests made, it is clear the encampment has become a magnet for activity that is deeply inconsistent with our values, policies and practices.

From the outset, our goal has been to find a resolution to the unauthorized encampment in a way that avoids the risk of physical confrontation and injury and that enables principled and policy-informed discussions about important issues. We’ve consistently demonstrated patience, restraint, and resolve because we remain convinced that progress is possible in a way that allows us to stay true to our principles. Our community should expect nothing less.  


Meric S. Gertler