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University of Toronto president offers agreement to students conditional on encampment clearing

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University of Toronto president Meric Gertler has offered student representatives an agreement regarding their demands on divestment and disclosure of investments but rejected cutting academic ties, conditional on encampments at the university being cleared.

A pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Toronto, set up at King’s College Circle, has been on the campus for three weeks, as demonstrators call on the university to sever financial ties with the Israeli government and for a ceasefire in the ongoing war in Gaza.

While Gertler has acknowledged the students’ right to protest and freedom of expression, he also says it needs to be within the limits of university policies and the law.

In a statement issued Thursday, the university’s president said, “From day one, our goal has been to achieve a peaceful and sustainable resolution to the unauthorized encampment.”

“For the past three weeks, we have demonstrated tremendous patience while a shared-use space on our campus has been taken over by the encampment to the exclusion of others. The fundamental principle of inclusion – one that extends to physical spaces on our campuses – has been violated,” continued the statement.

“Discrimination and harassment have been experienced on campus by members of our community since the encampment began, with incidents being reported to Toronto Police Service in some cases, and the university addressing concerns directly with student organizers in others.”

Gertler offered an agreement for students to consider within 24 hours, saying that direct conversation with student representatives has been priority but there has been a “growing strain on our community”.

Gertler addressed four areas in the offer: a presidential statement, divestment, disclosure of investments, and academic ties.

Issuing a public statement reaffirming the university’s commitment to academic freedom, human rights, and international cooperation will come from Gertler, while student representatives will be invited to the Business Board of Governing Council on June 19 to present their demands in relation to divestment.

“Upon receipt of the necessary brief and petition, the University will engage in – and expedite, where possible – a review of the divestment request under the terms and process of the University’s Policy on Social and Political Issues with Respect to University Divestment,” read the statement.

The university will reportedly provide resources to support the process, including preparation of the brief and petition, establish an advisory committee to review the brief, in line with the policy that will be composed of faculty, staff, students and alumni with “relevant expertise, whose selection minimizes conflicts of interest with respect to the issues relevant to the divestment request”.

Student representatives of the encampment are allowed to suggest qualified individuals to be considered for membership on the committee, though the final decision regarding membership will rest with the executive committee of governing council, on the recommendation of the president.

The advisory committee has been given the goal of issuing its report and recommendations by no later than the end of October, where the president will consider the report and make a decision on next steps in a “timely manner”.

Looking at disclosure of investments, the university says it will create an expert working group to consider options for disclosure and increased transparency related to the university’s investments, with recommendations to the president.

Similar to divestment, student representatives of the encampment group can put forward names of qualified individuals for membership in the working group, with the president determining its membership, and those selected may make submissions to the working group which will also consult with relevant stakeholders, experts, and other members of the university community.

The working group will be instructed to deliver recommendations by mid-July, with the president to respond to the recommendations within three weeks.

When it comes to academic ties however, the university says it will not terminate any partnerships with Israeli universities or “attempt to curtail scholars’ academic freedom in any way”.

“The University rejects calls for cutting ties with international partner institutions or engaging in academic boycotts because these actions would be at odds with our commitment to academic freedom, the unfettered global circulation of people and ideas, and advancing understanding by fostering collaboration and dialogue,” read Gertler’s statement.

“The University’s approach is to build bridges and expand partnerships. We continue active discussions to increase opportunities for Palestinian scholars and faculty and to enrich Palestinian studies at the University.

“This work commenced well before the beginning of the encampment and will continue regardless of whether the students accept the terms of our offer.  These initiatives mirror our existing collaborations with Israeli scholars on topics that include, among other subjects, the study of antisemitism and hate speech.”

Gertler stated the offer is conditional on the encampment clearing and not resuming at any campus of the university, and any participants must refrain from disrupting convocation activities.

“The encampment must end. Our approach remains guided by our effort to balance our shared values, people’s foundational rights and freedoms, and a desire for a peaceful resolution,” continued the statement.

“We hope that the representatives will accept our offer. Should an agreement not be reached, the University will take further action.”

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