The University of Toronto is opposed to all forms of discrimination, and committed to the protection of freedom of speech and academic freedom. The University was alarmed to learn about two motions passed at the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) Annual General Meeting on November 24. Both motions are inconsistent with the University of Toronto’s core values of freedom of speech and inclusion.
One motion reaffirmed SCSU’s commitment to the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement; another concerns the rights of Jewish students at UTSC. Student organizations are free to take positions on a wide variety of controversial topics. Student societies for which the University collects mandatory fees based on registration must abide by our Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Societies. This Policy simultaneously affirms the independent operation of autonomous student societies and the requirement that “autonomy must be exercised in a manner that is compliant with the law and University policy. Further, all Student Organizations must conduct themselves in an open, accessible and democratic manner.”
One of the requirements in the BDS motion is that SCSU “refrain from engaging with organizations, services, or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid.” The motion allows an exception for suppliers of Kosher food if “no alternatives are available.” A requirement that providers of food as a religious accommodation be required to apply for an exemption, or even be asked about their views about issues elsewhere in the world is unacceptable.
So too is the striking of the language about academic freedom from the second motion. Academic freedom is an individual right, and the Policy on Open, Accessible and Democratic Autonomous Student Societies requires that these organizations must permit their members to determine which positions to take. Nor should they restrict the speakers that they can invite, or organizations with which they can cooperate based on their connections to a particular country.
The motions are specifically focused on Israel in a way that is troubling to many members of the community. Such motions would be no more acceptable if focused on another country, or if a student organization in which members are enrolled by their registration were to take multiple stands on a wide variety of issues.
The University’s place in society requires that its members be free to take positions on controversial questions. These issues are addressed by a number of University of Toronto policies, including the Statement on Freedom of Speech and the Policy on the Recognition of Student Groups. According to our Statement of Institutional Purpose,
The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.
Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.
These requirements apply directly to the SCSU motions. It is not acceptable to impose political tests on the recognition of Jewish student groups on any of the University of Toronto campuses. It is unacceptable to impose political tests on suppliers of Kosher or any other type of food.
The University will be following up with the SCSU to address our concerns.
Meric S. Gertler