An update to the York Community from Sheila Cote-Meek and Lucy Fromowitz

December 10, 2019

Update to the York Community

It is essential that universities provide spaces where different views can be safely expressed and issues facing our communities discussed without fear of intimidation, threats or violence.

As such, the occurrences surrounding the November 20 event and protest at Vari Hall continue to be of great concern to the University.

The University has clear and strong principles that all groups and individual members of the York community are expected to follow and at times like this it is of particular importance to reiterate them:

  • Safety is our priority: Every member of the York community must be and feel safe on our campuses. Students, faculty including contract faculty, and staff have the right to fully participate in all facets of university life without harassment, intimidation, threats, disruption or acts of violence.
  • We have no tolerance for discrimination: Targeting any member of the York community based on their race, religion, national origin, or any other identified characteristic is unacceptable and will never be tolerated.
  • We respect the right to free speech and the free exchange of ideas: York is committed to the fundamental values of free expression, free inquiry and respect for genuine diversity of thought and opinion. It is the right of all community members and invited guests to express their views within the law and without fear of intimidation or harassment.
  • We are all responsible: Every group and individual member of the York community must uphold these principles. There is a collective and individual responsibility to protect the rights of every member of the York community to a safe environment in which ideas can be freely exchanged.

The Motion on Fighting Imperialist Propaganda on Our Campus passed by the York Federation of Students (YFS) at its recent Annual General Meeting is not in keeping with these fundamental principles and values.

The motion has created doubts in the minds of many members of the York community about the commitment of YFS to promoting a safe and inclusive environment for all to learn, express ideas and dissent that is free from harassment, intimidation, disruption or acts of violence.

We have expressed our concerns about the motion to YFS and have received assurances that YFS is committed to safety, inclusion and protecting free speech, values we all share. YFS has also committed to a process to "define the parameters" of the motion. It is not yet clear to us how parameters might be set to meet the principles that the administration and YFS have committed to. We nevertheless look forward to hearing back from YFS, and trust that they will reach out to students and student groups with a wide range of views, including Jewish student groups, in ensuring that the issues with the motion are resolved by the time students return to class on January 6, 2020.

Based on a preliminary internal review we also have temporarily suspended the privileges of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and Herut Zionism to book rooms, table and poster, pending a final review and discussions with both groups.

These are in addition to action taken immediately following the November 20 protest reported in our community update of November 29 including:
• Commissioning a comprehensive independent external review of the event including an assessment of how the event was managed and any underlying issues that need to be addressed. We hope to announce further details soon.
• Launching an internal investigation of the incident led by Community Safety using all available resources including an assessment of whether individuals or groups violated York’s policies and/or codes of conduct warranting disciplinary action.
• Creating a working group led by Vice-President of Equity, People and Culture, Sheila Cote-Meek, and Vice-Provost Students Lucy Fromowitz to review relevant policies in light of the November 20 event including the Temporary Use of University Space policy and postering guidelines to ensure alignment with best practices. Recommendations are also expected to include education initiatives aimed at facilitating a respectful climate on campus for the discussion of difficult topics.
• Assisting the Toronto Police Service in their investigation.

Properly addressing the matters outlined above will require some time. We are asking the entire community to support our efforts and avoid further escalation.

The latest information on these matters can be found at President’s Initiative on Open & Respectful Dialogue.

York is a university proud of its reputation as an outstanding centre of learning and exploration. The actions we have taken to date demonstrate our commitment to protecting the safety and rights of students, faculty and staff and to ensuring that every member of our community can thrive and grow.

Sheila Cote-Meek                                                                Lucy Fromowitz

Vice-President of Equity, People and Culture                Vice-Provost, Students