Temerty Medicine Response to U of T’s Anti-Semitism Working Group Report

December 8, 2021 

This has been a difficult and troubling time for many of us at Temerty Medicine. Not only has a global pandemic challenged us relentlessly for nearly two years but an increasingly polarized world is actively testing our fundamental principles as members of a university community. 

While contemporary Canadian society continues to grapple with antisemitism as a persistent form of both racism and religious intolerance – often based in grotesque centuries-old tropes – the University of Toronto’s Anti-Semitism Working Group (ASWG) has also been examining this issue across U of T’s three campuses for the last year.  

Chaired by legal and philosophy scholar University Prof. Arthur Ripstein, the working group comprised faculty, students and staff who consulted widely, hearing from nearly 700 survey respondents, more than 200 email submissions, as well as conducting multiple focus groups and one-on-one interviews.  

The University today released its report of the ASWG and senior university leaders have accepted its eight recommendations, which extend to antisemitic racism and antisemitic religious discrimination, as well as definitions of antisemitism, the extent and limits of academic freedom in a university setting, religious observance accommodations, and the provision of kosher food on campus.  

The report notes that the ASWG heard firsthand of the racist stereotyping, coded language, crude images, as well as harassment and physical assaults some Jewish members of the U of T community have endured. The ASWG also found a widespread perception among the Jewish community at U of T of insensitivity by the University administration, including the equity offices, to concerns of antisemitism.  

The University has heard those criticisms and will follow the report’s recommendations to take a much more active role in addressing this issue. In addition, the Temerty Faculty is undertaking several initiatives to ensure that this harmful and completely unacceptable behaviour has no place in the Faculty. 

Temerty Medicine acknowledges the careful, consultative approach taken by the ASWG members, including Anita Balakrishna, the Faculty’s Director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, and Prof. Ayelet Kuper, the Faculty’s Senior Advisor on Antisemitism since June 2021, who is also an accomplished scholar of the humanities as well as medical education. Prof. Kuper offers outstanding guidance and leadership to our Faculty, and we are grateful for her commitment to this difficult work.  

We know that it will be difficult for a report of this nature to respond to the wide-ranging and deeply held views on this extraordinarily complex issue. Please take the time to read the full document. We ask that you reflect on your individual reaction to this report, and consider your response, including your role in contributing to a respectful, inclusive debate on the issues. 

We are all enormously privileged, by definition, as members of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine community. The ASWG report reminds us, in part, why that is: the University holds a distinctive place in society, with its core principle of supporting academic freedom in a culture of respect and inclusion. As the report states: “These dual commitments to freedom of expression and inclusive debate properly inform everything the University does.” 

The right held by individual academics to express unpopular or controversial opinions – without fear of University reprisal – is at the heart of this principle. It allows individuals to take on activist roles or express contentious opinions, but it must be underscored that the University as an institution does not hold this same privilege.  

Some may see this neutrality as weakness or cowardice on the part of the institution, but it is the foundation that allows individual academic freedom to exist. That freedom extends to and must be inclusive of everyone in the academic community; there is no place for racism or religious exclusion of any kind. 

The ASWG heard that most of our Jewish learners and faculty perceive being pressed to express their political beliefs – in order to belong – to be antisemitic in itself. The report clearly affirms: “From the point of view of the operation of the University, nobody has a special responsibility as a member of a religious, ethnic or racialized group to take any position whatsoever on any question whatsoever. To suppose that Jews are somehow different, or that because of their history Jews have a special responsibility to criticize the acts of other Jews, is straightforwardly anti-Semitic.” 

In the context of Temerty Medicine, here is what we have been doing – and what we commit to do – vis a vis the report’s recommendations: 

  • Resourcing and responding: Temerty Medicine is ensuring our Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion is resourced and equipped to address antisemitism in the same manner we address other forms of hatred and racism. No one in our community will ever be turned away to face a challenging or harmful situation on their own. In addition, our Office of Learner Experience is committed to supporting learners experiencing discrimination and harassment on the basis of their Jewish identity. Like all equity-deserving groups, Jews have the inherent right to be believed when they say have been discriminated against and to define their own experience of antisemitism.  
  • Educating across the continuum: At Temerty Medicine, every first year MD student takes part in a mandatory session on religious discrimination, including antisemitism; second-year students participate in a powerful workshop on lessons from Holocaust. Starting in January, a postdoctoral fellow will join Prof. Kuper in the work to mentor students and further our antisemitism educational initiatives at multiple levels. We will continue with faculty development efforts, which are underway for departmental leaders and frontline physicians, and we are committed to extending this work to other Faculty units, including the rehabilitative sciences and basic sciences. Beyond these specific sessions, future Temerty Medicine EDI trainings will routinely include antisemitism education. 
  • Listening and communicating: Many are aware that Temerty Medicine has been holding regular listening sessions in recent months for groups, including Jewish faculty, to share their concerns and ideas on the issue of religious intolerance. We also support the University’s commitment, outlined in the report, to issue regular communications about relevant policies to faculty and senior staff, as well as to communicate about the University’s approach to controversial events, emphasizing there will not be content-based restrictions but that events must be held in a respectful, safe and open manner. 
  • Required religious accommodations: Temerty Medicine concurs wholeheartedly with the report’s recommendation that those requesting religious-based accommodations “must not be required to prove that they meet some other person’s view of what qualifies as religious observance in order to be granted accommodations.” As well, we are committed to ensuring kosher food is readily available to all Temerty Medicine learners, staff and faculty on both U of T campuses where we teach (St. George and Mississauga). This is a basic human right and should not be used as a political lever. 
  • Educating in new areas: More difficult work lies ahead. The report notes that many of the incidents described to the working group involved social media and other online postings. The ASWG recommends the University “develop a framework for addressing various forms of social exclusion, harassment, micro-aggressions and bullying (including online instances of these) for all equity-deserving groups, and apply these consistently.” At Temerty Medicine, clinical faculty will be guided not only by U of T policies but also by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, which is currently updating its guidelines around civil discourse online. Our own Temerty Medicine Social Media Working Group, led by Vice Dean Clinical Affairs Prof. Lynn Wilson and Director of Professional Values, Prof. Pier Bryden, have been studying this issue and are expected to continue consultations in 2022. 

In summary, Temerty Medicine stands behind the University’s response to the ASWG report and is committed to supporting our Jewish learners, staff and faculty through the measures outlined above.  It’s only through a commitment to continued education and dialogue that we at Temerty Medicine will foster a respectful, inclusive culture where we all belong.