The University of Toronto released a video to mark the entrustment of the Anti-Semitism Working Group’s final report and affirm the university’s commitment to tackling anti-Semitism in all its forms.
The report outlines eight recommendations to tackle anti-Semitism and religious discrimination on campus while also addressing the extent and limits of academic freedom in a university setting.
All of the recommendations – which range from developing measures to respond to harassment to addressing definitions of anti-Semitism and providing kosher food on campus – were accepted by university leadership when the report was released in December, 2021.
“The principles of equity, diversity and inclusion are fundamental to the institutional identity and academic mission of the University of Toronto,” said U of T President Meric Gertler during the virtual entrustment ceremony.
“As an integral part of that commitment, we are profoundly opposed to anti-Semitism, which remains an unwelcome source of discrimination, harassment and violence in our society, and a threat to free societies everywhere.”
President Gertler thanked the members of the Anti-Semitism Working Group, as well as individuals and organizations at U of T and beyond who took part in the working group’s consultations and surveys, for making “a vital contribution to the university.”
He noted U of T’s institutional response to the report outlines a concrete plan of action to implement all eight recommendations. “We’re hopeful it will ensure that all members of the Jewish community feel safe and welcome on our campuses. This, in turn, will strengthen the ability of the University of Toronto to fulfil its academic mission,” President Gertler said.
The Anti-Semitism Working Group was established in December 2020 to examine anti-Semitism on campus, craft a framework to inform U of T’s response to the issue and recommend ways to improve education about – and responses – to the various manifestations of anti-Semitism.
This entrustment marking the official handover of the working group’s final report to university administration, was emceed by Jodie Glean, interim executive director, equity, diversity and inclusion.
“Over the course of the pandemic the world has been called to grapple with and address the many forms of systemic inequities, racism and discrimination that continue to impact the lives and livelihoods of many communities,” Glean said in her introductory remarks. “We must activate our collective responsibility to foster inclusive and respectful environments so that we may all share in and experience the sentiment of belonging across the tri-campus.”
Glean welcomed the eight recommendations outlined in the working group’s report, saying they provide the university with a “critical tool and guide” to address anti-Semitism.
The group – chaired by Arthur Ripstein, a University Professor in the Faculty of Law and the department of philosophy in the Faculty of Arts & Science – consulted with students, faculty, staff and librarians on how to foster an environment that’s welcoming to members of the Jewish community.
Ripstein said the recommendations are designed to help the university make progress in coming to terms with anti-Semitism – not a direct response to specific incidents.
“Our aim was to make recommendations for the ways in which the university can deal with problems of anti-Semitism in light of its distinctive place in society – a place that is, on the one hand, dedicated to equity and inclusion for everyone, and on the other hand, committed to fundamental principles of free speech and academic freedom,” Ripstein said.
Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president, people strategy, equity and culture, said that anti-Semitism at U of T takes many forms, from blatant to subtle.
“As the report shows, anti-Semitism can mean perpetuating stereotypes of what it means to be Jewish, it can be demanding that all members of the Jewish community adhere to a single set of beliefs or values, it encompasses faith-based discrimination as well as racism,” she said.
Hannah-Moffat outlined some of the steps that the division of people strategy, equity and culture will take to promote equity, expand education and protect the safety and well-being of members of the Jewish community. They include: providing workshops and training led by the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office (ARCDO) to address anti-Semitism and promote inclusive practices; working with partners inside and beyond U of T to provide programming to promote the well-being of Jewish community members; engaging in a critical review of U of T’s Statement on Prohibited Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment s and sharing resources pertinent to the responsibilities of employers to accommodate religious observances.
“We will be accountable and communicate our progress in implementing the recommendations of the Anti-Semitism Working Group report,” Hannah-Moffat said.
In addressing the topic of academic freedom, the working group’s report says U of T must emphasize that members of its community are entitled to take the positions they wish on difficult and controversial questions, and that their positions must not impede their ability to participate in activities or access resources at the university.
“In our community, the principle of academic freedom, which involves the right to investigate, speculate and comment without reference to prescribed doctrine, is core to scholarship,” said Trevor Young, dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine who was acting vice-president and provost when the final report was delivered. “Academic freedom lies at the heart of the open debate that advances knowledge across the disciplines, and we uphold its protection.
“We are grateful to the working group for recognizing that academic freedom can indeed exist alongside our efforts to build a more inclusive space for Jewish members of our community.”