More than 60 UofT professors declare support for pro-Palestinian protesters after administration’s disciplinary threat

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Supporters walk through the pro-Palestinian student camp in front of Convocation Hall on the University of Toronto campus on May 27, 2024.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Some University of Toronto professors say the administration’s threat to discipline those who violate its invasion order and join a pro-Palestinian camp has encouraged more professors to join the protest.

In a show of solidarity with student protesters, some professors vowed Tuesday that if the university asks police to clear the encampment, they would stand in the way to protect students.

More than 60 professors showed up outside the Simcoe Hall administration building for a news conference denouncing the university’s attempts to force an end to the camp, which has been in effect since May 2.

The camp is part of a movement that has spread across universities in Canada and the United States in the past two months. Student protesters have been calling on universities to reveal where they invest their money, to divest from companies connected to the Israeli military, and to cut ties with Israeli universities operating in the occupied territories.

The university has filed a motion with the Ontario Superior Court seeking permission to clear the camp and call police to carry out the task. A meeting to set a date for that hearing is expected to be held Tuesday afternoon.

Deb Cowen, a geography professor and member of the Jewish Teachers Network, said nearly 200 teachers have attended the camp, a number that has increased since the university issued what she described as an unprecedented threat.

The trespass notice the university has circulated states that students could be subject to disciplinary action, including suspension or even a recommendation for expulsion. It also said teachers, librarians and staff may be subject to action up to and including termination.

“We are here because we care deeply about our students and because we care deeply about what we need to do here at this institution of higher education,” Professor Cowen said.

He echoed the Ontario Federation of Labor’s call urging the administration not to force a confrontation.

“If you decide to take action against the students, you will have to go through us first,” Professor Cowen said.

Steve Easterbrook, the school’s environmental director, said he was shocked by what he called the administration’s “egregious” threat to faculty.

“The idea of ​​a university calling the police to remove its own students, staff and faculty from campus is unthinkable. And threatening staff and teachers with dismissal is unthinkable. That is why I and many other chairs and directors wrote to the President expressing our outrage at these extreme measures and at the lack of consultation that led to them,” Professor Easterbrook said.

In response, the University of Toronto’s media relations office characterized the group as a small minority of the university’s faculty.

In its notice of motion to the Superior Court of Justice, the university administration has said that members of the university community have expressed concerns about their health and safety arising from the camp, which it said had limited freedom of expression and freedom of expression. association of people. on campus restricting access to King’s College Circle. He also maintains that the camp limits the expression of those who hold views different from those expressed by the protest.

Erin Mackey, a student organizer for the camp, said talks are still ongoing with the university to find a solution. She said U of T President Meric Gertler has not yet personally joined the negotiations. She characterized the parties as still far apart on the issue of divestment. The university has offered committees to study the issue, she said, as students demand a compromise.

More to come.