UK: Universities to defy government pressure to ditch race equality group

Of note:

Universities in England have launched a fightback against government attacks on their autonomy, telling ministers they “crossed a line” by pressurising them to abandon a scheme designed to improve equality on campus.

In what may be a turning point in the so-called “culture wars” over free speech, Universities UK (UUK) took on the education minister Michelle Donelan after she warned them to reconsider membership of a race equality charter, run by the charity Advance HE.

The scheme – which counts the majority of Russell Group universities among its members – aims to identify barriers to success for black, Asian and minority ethnic students. But in a letter to vice-chancellors this week, Donelan claimed that membership of the charter was “in tension” with universities’ duties to uphold free speech.

In its letter of response on Thursday, Universities UK said: “An important line has been crossed with the letter appearing to direct universities to take a specific approach” on equalities.

In a later statement, UUK confirmed that it intended to ignore Donelan’s request and remain affiliated with Advance HE.

A spokesperson for UUK said: “Universities take their responsibilities to promote and protect free speech very seriously. We have yet to see any evidence of how this voluntary, non-prescriptive scheme works against this.

“The scheme is voluntary and provides a means through which universities can address racial inequality within the sector and we will continue our work with Advance HE to support this goal.”

The row comes as the higher education freedom of speech bill is being debated in the Lords, where it has come under fire from Conservative, Labour and cross-bench peers. It has been criticised for imposing a new free speech regulator with new powers to fine universities for failing to comply with free speech provisions.

Vice-chancellors said Donelan’s letter was a chilling forerunner of how a regulator could interfere with internal university affairs if the bill is passed in its current form, with one describing it as “an unambiguous attack on university autonomy”.

David Willetts, the Conservative peer and former universities minister, said: “I do wish to see protections for freedom of speech, but it’s very odd to protect freedom of speech at the same time as further intervention.

“I think one of the reasons why universities in Britain are so internationally respected is because of their autonomy. I don’t think it’s as much a line being crossed as a slippery slope that we are on, in which the autonomy of our universities is gradually eroded.”

The letter to Donelan, signed by Prof Steve West, vice-chancellor of the University of the West of England, reminded the minister that racism remained “a pervasive societal issue” that affected students from ethnic minority backgrounds.

But it added: “Universities, as autonomous institutions, must also remain free to decide how best to foster inclusivity and tackle societal issues such as racism which have a serious and detrimental impact on staff and students.”

The letter continued: “We do not believe that free speech and voluntary external assurance frameworks are at odds with each other – rather they can help to address power imbalances and ensure a more diverse range of voices are empowered to speak up.

“We understand from our members in England that a number will likely respond to you directly, both to restate their commitment to ensuring free speech and to highlight how external assurance schemes play an important role in tackling serious issues such as harassment and degree awarding gaps.”

While Donelan’s letter noted that universities were autonomous and free to join schemes such as the race equality charter, she went on to say they should “reflect carefully” on membership.

While Advance HE’s race equality charter was the only example mentioned by name, Donelan went on to say that “there are of course a number of other, similar, schemes, and this letter invites careful consideration in respect of all these”.

Advance HE also administers the Athena Swan charter that seeks to improve gender equality within higher education and research. Donelan has previously described the scheme as “at worst a dangerous initiative that undermines scholarship”.

“Bearing in mind the substantial sums invested by the taxpayer into higher education, I would ask you to consider whether membership of these schemes; the initiatives that flow from them; and the creation of new, highly paid, management roles in these areas truly represent good value for money for taxpayers or students,” Donelan said.

Criticising the higher education freedom bill when it was debated this week, Shami Chakrabarti, a Labour peer and a former director of Liberty, said: “How can it be a protection of academic freedom to give more and more power over independent institutions of scholarship to the government’s Office for Students and the new director for freedom of speech?”

Willetts said that the current bill was heavy-handed and questioned how the bill’s freedom of speech regulator could balance the government’s demands that some forms of legal speech, such as holocaust denial, would not be allowed on campus.

“They are expecting the regulator to be more restrictive than simple lawful, freedom of speech. We need to know exactly what things he or she is not going to protect despite them being lawful,” Willetts said.

Willetts said he hopes the government would make “significant” amendments to the bill, pointing out that universities could find themselves punished for suppressing some forms of speech at the same time as tech platforms were punished under the government’s new online safety bill for transmitting the same opinions.

Source: Universities to defy government pressure to ditch race equality group

U of T accepts all recommendations of Anti-Semitism Working Group

Significant and sensible, not adapting the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism or other definitions as “They are not suitable to the distinctive context of the university:”

The University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group has delivered its final report and made a series of recommendations to tackle anti-Semitic racism and religious discrimination on campus – all of which have been accepted by the university.

The report’s eight recommendations also address definitions of anti-Semitism, the extent and limits of academic freedom in a university setting and the provision of kosher food on campus.

“Anti-Semitism is an ancient but still present and problematic form of hatred,” said Arthur Ripstein, chair of the working group and a University Professor of law and philosophy. “Our aim in drafting this report is to make realistic and actionable recommendations of the ways that the university can move forward in addressing it and to ensure that U of T is a place where Jewish members of the community feel safe and welcome.”Comprising student, staff and faculty representatives, the working group conducted extensive consultations across the three campuses. Its findings draw on nearly 700 survey responses, more than 200 email submissions, six focus groups and several interviews with Jewish student organizations, as well as one with Jewish faith leaders.

The Anti-Semitism Working Group was established last December by U of T’s president, provost and vice-president, human resources and equity (now people strategy, equity and culture) to review programming, activities, processes and practices in place at the university, as well as to make recommendations to support the university’s response to anti-Semitism.

The review comes at a time when incidents of anti-Semitism are sharply on the rise in broader society. In July, the chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission warned that there had been “an alarming increase in antisemitic acts” during the pandemic.

Ripstein recounts that the university has a troubling history of anti-Semitism. In the 19th century, Jews were not able to become faculty members, and through to the middle part of the 20th century some faculties had quotas on the number of Jewish students that could be admitted.

“The situation for Jewish members of the university has improved considerably since that time,” said Ripstein. “But there are still situations in which they are made to feel unwelcome or harassed. Our aim is to address those issues in ways that are sensitive to the particular position of the university as a place of learning and as a place of academic disagreement.”

Each of the working group’s recommendations focuses on ways the university can make itself a more inclusive and equitable place. That includes calling for the university to apply its equity, diversity and inclusion policies consistently, and procedures to ensure that anti-Semitism is treated in the same way as other forms of racism and religious discrimination. Other recommendations include:

  • The university should focus on problems and issues specific to the distinctive context of the university as a place in which difficult and controversial questions are addressed. In so doing, it should not adopt any of the definitions of anti-Semitism that have recently been proposed because of concerns about their applicability to a university setting.
  • Academic units, administrative units and student organizations in which enrolment is mandatory must not make participation in their activities or access to their resources conditional on taking a particular position on any controversial question.
  • The university should issue regular communications about its approach to controversial events, emphasizing that it will not enforce content-based restrictions on such events but that such events must be held in a respectful, safe and open manner.
  • The university must develop measures for responding to various forms of social exclusion, harassment, micro-aggressions and bullying (including online instances) for all equity-deserving groups and apply these consistently.
  • The university and its divisions and academic units should apply the Policy on Scheduling Classes and Examinations and Other Accommodations for Religious Observances consistently, avoiding scheduling mandatory events on significant Jewish holidays and permitting Jewish members of the university to participate fully in a range of accommodations.
  • The university should ensure kosher food is readily available on its campuses.

In response, U of T President Meric Gertler, Acting Vice-President & Provost Trevor Young and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity and Culture Kelly Hannah-Moffat said they were pleased to accept all the working group’s recommendations.

“We are profoundly opposed to anti-Semitism,” the university leaders said in their official response to the report. “We are determined to ensure that our campuses are places where members of the Jewish community feel that they are safe, included and respected as members and friends of the U of T community.”

They also thanked the members of the working group, as well as all those who took part in the consultations. “Through their consultations and deliberations, and through their report, [the working group has] made an extremely valuable contribution to the University on behalf of its Jewish community,” they said.

The working group report examined the tensions between the essential need for a culture of respect and inclusion and the university’s unique position in society, where, in the words of the Statement of Institutional Purpose, “the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research.”

Within this context, the working group recommended that the university not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. “The reason that we are not recommending the adoption of the IHRA, or other definitions, is that all of them are designed for different purposes,” explained Ripstein. “They are not suitable to the distinctive context of the university. Adoption of them would not integrate with the requirements on us and our other existing policy commitments.”

The university’s senior leaders confirmed that a definition of anti-Semitism will not be adopted: “We appreciate that some members of the University community as well as external stakeholders may be disappointed … We also acknowledge and appreciate the working group’s principled and thoughtful reasoning on this point.”

The working group report noted that free speech and academic freedom requirements mean that unpopular views must not lead to any form of sanctions or exclusion from the university experience. Also, academic units should not pressure or require individuals to endorse or oppose political causes, the report said.

The institutional response highlights several ways in which individuals will be reminded of their responsibilities, including through proactive communications and training that address anti-Semitism. There will also be a review of existing policies and guidelines to ensure that they respond to the particular challenge of addressing racism and faith-based hatred that’s found on social media.

The university will provide progress updates on the implementation of the report’s recommendations on its Anti-Racism Strategic Tables webpage.

Source: U of T accepts all recommendations of Anti-Semitism Working Group

Search for new director of U of T law faculty’s International Human Rights Program leads to resignations, allegations of interference

Resignation sends a message:

The faculty advisory board of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law has resigned following a controversy over the hiring of a new director for the program.

Edward Iacobucci, dean of the prestigious law school, has come under fire, accused of rescinding an offer of directorship to prominent international academic Valentina Azarova.

Several national and international scholars wrote to the university to express their consternation that the reversal came after reports of pressure from a sitting judge — a major donor to the faculty. He reportedly expressed concerns in private over Azarova’s past work on the issue of Israel’s human rights abuses in Palestine. All the letters mentioned here have been seen by the Star.

“The recent search for an executive director has generated substantial controversy, including allegations of outside interference in the hiring process,” Vincent Chiao, Trudo Lemmens and Anna Su, three members of the faculty advisory committee, wrote to Iacobucci on Wednesday. “We are disappointed by this outcome, the lack of fair process, including the failure to provide reasons for the decision taken.”

Audrey Macklin, who chaired that committee, and was part of the selection panel that unanimously found Azarova the best candidate for the job, resigned from the board last week.

In a statement to the Star, the university cited confidentiality in personnel matters, but said, “We can confirm that no offer of employment was made to any candidate, and therefore, no offer was revoked. The Faculty of Law has cancelled the search. No offers were made because of technical and legal constraints pertaining to cross-border hiring at this time,” said Kelly Hannah-Moffat, vice-president of human resources and equity. Azarova, who is based in Germany, declined to speak to the Star.

But a letter to Iacobucci from two past directors of the IHRP on Sept. 12 contradicts the university’s assertion that no offer of employment was made.

“Azarova — the hiring committee’s top candidate — accepted the faculty’s offer in mid-August,” wrote Carmen Cheung and the most recent director, Samer Muscati. “The Faculty of Law put Dr. Azarova in touch with immigration counsel to advise her on her options for securing a permit to work in Canada, and Dr. Azarova began planning to move with her partner from Germany to Toronto, where her stepchildren reside.”

Azarova has taught law and international law and has worked to establish human rights enforcement mechanisms in Europe and beyond and has consulted for United Nations fact-finding missions, among other accomplishments.

The dean cited confidentiality, and offered one statement to faculty at a meeting on Monday and to individual letter writers. “The uninformed and speculative rumours have reached such a level that, no offer of employment having been made, the University has decided to cancel the search for a candidate at this time.”

Letters to the university from international scholars, members of an alumni steering committee and other faculty strongly condemned what they saw as “improper external pressure” and “impropriety of such interference by alumni.”

“The mere perception of interference has the potential to undermine the integrity of the Faculty of Law’s hiring process and the reputation and future work of the IHRP,” says a letter from two co-chairs of the IHRP Alumni Steering Committee.

Cancelling the search effectively maintains the status quo that the IHRP remains without a permanent director.

Trudo Lemmens of the faculty advisory committee said he was hoping for a firm statement either confirming an attempt to interfere — and detailing the university’s response — or refuting the allegations.

“As a faculty member of an academic institution which values academic freedom and human rights issues, I have no clear understanding of why the appointment didn’t take place. That’s why I joined colleagues in resigning because I’m not in a position to firmly defend the process and the decision. This is particularly important because I so strongly believe in the value of the program and the integrity of the program.”

A professor at U of T Law said: “He (the dean) alludes to the rumours but he does not deny them. Of course, we can only speculate — we don’t know what the person told him and what he did. If there’s no basis for this rumour, we’re misinformed. So please inform us.

“That carefully crafted lawyerly response is non-responsive.”

The IHRP has been without a permanent director for more than a year. Academics and legal experts who are familiar with Azarova’s work told the Star she was a perfect candidate.

“She’s a human rights practitioner in a wide variety of areas,” said Itamar Mann, associate professor, the University of Haifa Faculty of Law, who worked closely with Azarova at the non-profit Global Legal Action Network on migration and refugee issues in Europe.

She is a fellow at the Manchester International Law Centre, University of Manchester, speaks multiple languages and has lived in the Middle East and Africa.

The university program itself is known to offer learning opportunities for students, exposing them to national and international human rights concerns.

Professors told the Star that while even controversial views cannot be censored, those espoused by Azarova are not radical and adhere to mainstream legal consensus on Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories.

“Her criticism of Israel is extremely legitimate within Israel,” Mann said. “It’s a criticism that I share. It’s a criticism of long-standing human rights violations of international law, primarily through the project of settlements which is unquestionably illegal and that’s the kind of majority position around the world. It’s not an exotic position to take at all.

“Even from the perspective of people who imagine themselves as helping defend or support Israel, I think this would be a grave mistake.

“Being able to debate is an essential part of democracy.”


U of T gets personal with staff to track race, gender data

Lessons for the federal public service and other organizations?

Particularly significant is the removal of names from resumés to remove implicit (and explicit) bias.

Ontario EducationI was able to drill down to visible minority groups using NHS data for the  education sector as in the chart above for Ontario, as differences among groups are increasingly more important than between visible minorities and non-visible minorities:

Canada’s largest university is asking its employees remarkably personal questions — from what race they are and where they come from to whether they’re transgendered — in a bid to make sure certain groups aren’t being left out of jobs and promotions.

In a new survey given this week to all 10,000 employees from professors to secretaries, the University of Toronto goes beyond asking staff if they see themselves as “persons of colour” or “racialized,” to whether they are black, white, Asian, Latin/Hispanic, Middle Eastern or mixed.

And that’s just to start.

The updated Employment Equity Survey then dives to a level believed unmatched on any other Canadian campus: If you answer ‘black,’ are you African, Caribbean, European, North American or South American?

If you said Asian, do you mean East Asian (Chinese, Japanese, Korean), South Asian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan), Southeast Asian (Malaysian, Filipino, Vietnamese) or Asian Caribbean from, say, Trinidad? Hispanic employees are asked if their heritage is Caribbean, Central American, European or South American.

The questions also offer a sneak peek at what the university’s 85,000 students will be asked this fall on its first student demographic survey.

“Students have made it very clear they don’t see themselves reflected in faculty and staff, so collecting data is part of an overall move to get a better sense of who is under-represented so we can do better outreach and targeted recruitment,” said Angela Hildyard, vice-president of human resources and equity.

Like other organizations that do a certain amount of business with the federal government, U of T has for decades been required to track its employees by gender, disability, whether they’re aboriginal or members of a ‘visible minority.’

“But this language no longer makes sense,” said Hildyard, especially with students. “If you’ve been to one of our convocations lately, you’ll see we’re so diverse, the visible minority would likely be white.” Even changing the category last year to “person of colour or racialized person” shed little light on the true diversity of campus workers.

“If equity and diversity are linked to excellence — and we are the only university in North America to have a statement making it clear we’ll only be excellent with diversity and equity — then we need to collect more information on how different groups are represented on campus.”

Some black faculty members have been vocal about the need to increase their ranks, she said, “but we have no idea how many we have because we don’t have data. This gives us a better sense of who we have here and if they are under-represented, and target candidate pools.”

Moreover, the university will start giving the survey to job applicants as well, so it can track where the gaps begin.

“Black students feel woefully under-represented (among U of T faculty and staff), so this will allow us to actually see the numbers of black applicants in the first place, and are they being shortlisted? Is there some kind of discrimination going on?”

Too, U of T will take the unusual step of removing names from job applicants’ resumés “to see if that enhances certain groups’ possibility of being interviewed. We always want to be sure we hire the best candidate, but is there something happening (that blocks particular groups) like hiring committees having a bias against certain kinds of names?”

Anecdotally, the ranks of professors at Canadian universities “are not very representative of the wider population,” noted David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, “so gathering this kind of information is a positive thing.” It also could help reveal which university departments are less diverse than others, not only with regards to race, but also gender and abilities.

The U of T survey asks about disabilities and sexual orientation, and a new question on gender includes check-boxes for man, woman, two-spirit, “another gender identity” or “trans: a person who identifies with a gender other than the one assigned to them at birth, or differs from stereotypical masculine and feminine norms.”

Said Hildyard: “The data can help us learn who applies, who gets shortlisted, who gets interviewed for jobs, so if we find the candidate pool is not diverse, that’s where we can focus our efforts.”

Source: U of T gets personal with staff to track race, gender data | Toronto Star

U of T to track race-based data of its students

Ontario EducationAlways good to have better data to identify patterns of behaviour and ask whether additional measures are required.

We do have some data from the NHS regarding diversity in the education system at all three levels which I analyzed in my book, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote. In essence, in Ontario, as elsewhere in the country, university employees are more diverse than the population at large but median-income data indicates that visible minorities are concentrated in lower earning occupations.

Ontario University GraduationIn terms of students, all visible minority groups have higher university diploma rates than non-visible minorities and Aboriginal peoples, although it varies considerably among different groups:

The University of Toronto has committed to continuously collect race-based data from its students, the Star has learned, unprecedented among post-secondary institutions in Ontario.

The undertaking by Canada’s largest university comes amidst a broader effort to tackle a lack of representation in the lecture hall among some groups and lend hard numbers to the push for equity in the public realm.

Angela Hildyard, U of T’s vice-president for human resources and equity, hopes to see the online census rolled out next fall for the incoming crop of students.

“We’re trying to be as comprehensive and progressive as we can . . . We’re trying to be much more reflective of our own community,” Hildyard said.

The voluntary survey will likely reveal “significant under-representation of black faculty and staff,” she said, noting the new stats could be used to gauge disparities and inform recruitment policies.

Young black leaders, whose demands helped secure the university’s pledge, embrace it as a positive move toward equity in the halls of higher education — one that trumps fears of latent stereotyping revived by the prospect of racial categorizing.

“There is still so much work to be done, but we’re welcoming this as an exciting first step in creating a campus where black students feel safe and welcomed,” said Yusra Khogali, a U of T student and member of the Black Liberation Collective, a campus protest movement with local chapters across North America. “We hope to see work like this replicated at other institutions.”

Black Lives Matter co-founder Sandy Hudson said the news has “great potential” for overcoming barriers, from student diversity to program content.

The survey will allow students to self-identify with one or several ethnic backgrounds and check off racial identities drawn from Statistics Canada, ranging from Black to Chinese, South Asian, and Latin American. Students can also specify a racial background other than the roughly dozen listed.

The info would be gleaned — from all 85,000 students eventually — as part of a broader demographic data harvest that reaps information on students’ gender identity, sexual identity, religion and other areas — all largely uncharted territory for post-secondary institutions at this scale.

Carl James, director of the York Centre for Education and Community, thinks crunching numbers in fields from education to incarceration is key to confronting prejudice. “The data is critical,” he said.

Detailed demographic statistics, including information on race, is routinely collected in U.S. schools and universities. The fact that racial data-tracking breaks new ground up north speaks to deeply rooted attitudes toward race in Canada, says James.

“We have tended to think as Canadians that race is something we don’t live by or identify people with, when in fact we do,” James said.

David Robinson, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, notes that “anecdotally” there seems to be a ghettoization of certain groups in particular disciplines. “Women for instance are highly concentrated in the social sciences, almost invisible in engineering. And I think there are parallels with racialized minorities.

“Right now there’s not a lot of data collection that’s going on across the country to evidence that,” Robinson said.

Administrators plan to unroll the census on the heels of a revamped employment equity survey for faculty and staff.

That bare-bones questionnaire, in place for several years and filled out by incoming employees, currently lists no racial categories beyond “visible minority” or “racialized.” For gender identity, “transgendered” can soon be ticked off alongside more traditional boxes.

Source: U of T to track race-based data of its students | Toronto Star

Joseph Health on the Public Service

Attended an interesting talk this week by Joseph Heath on the three “poles of allegiance” of the public service: to elected officials, to the public, and to their professional values. Although his working through the issues in each category is a helpful analytical exercise, as a former public servant not sure that helps us much in the end in the Canadian context, where “fearless advice and loyal implementation” to the minister prevails.

My experience, as outlined in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism, was that whenever public servants deviated from serving elected officials, problems emerged. Should they try to serve the public in recommending Grant & Contribution projects, they missed the change in policy with projects being rejected. And should they try to follow their professionalism with respect to providing advice without taking political context into account, public servants were viewed as obstructive.

But alway good to have a theoretical framework challenge the status quo, and be provoked!

As a student of David Gilmour, and a feminist, I say put away the rope – The Globe and Mail

A bit off topic but as it relates to political correctness, have been following the “public lynching” of David Gilmour, a well-known author and professor at University of Toronto, who in a clumsy interview, explained why he only teaches male authors because those are the ones he relates to best.

Given that UofT also offers specialized courses by geographic region and community (e.g., Canlit, American, African, Asian, British and Jewish literature), gender (including LGBT), Shakespeare,  post-colonial etc., I find the criticism excessive. Students can choose or not to take the course, and the issue for the university is not that each course should be a survey type course. Rather, the English department has to ensure that there is a full-range of course themes to provide students with a broad perspective on writing and literature, and looking at the undergraduate calendar, that would appear to be the case.

As a student of David Gilmour, and a feminist, I say put away the rope – The Globe and Mail.

David Gilmour controversy: Margaret Atwood says universities places for ‘free expression’

‘Down the hall’ from David Gilmour