By Andrew Innis
The Ryerson Students’ Union is asking President Sheldon Levy to retract a statement he made in support of Israeli academics this past July.
Levy’s declaration, in which he refused to “shy away from controversy” or “disagreements over deeply held views,” came in response to a controversial boycott of Israeli universities by a group of British schools.
Now the RSU has drafted a motion asking Levy to rescind his statement.
Heather Kere, VP Education for the RSU, said the motion encourages more communication between students and Levy on “contentious” issues.
The draft memo, yet to be sent to the president’s office, asks for the creation of a student forum to gauge popular opinion before Levy makes statements on behalf of the university.
Part of it reads: “Be it resolved that the Ryerson Students’ Union ask Sheldon Levy to retract his comment and; be it further resolved that a meaningful discussion on the issue involving consultation of students, faculty and staff occur before a public statement from the university is issued.”
“If after the forum the consensus is to support the initial statement, it can be reissued,” Kere said. “It’s more about consulting the student population to make sure this is what they feel.”
However, Levy says he won’t budge.
“No. I stand 100 per cent behind this statement and will not retract it under any circumstances,” he said Monday. “We do not hinge our belief in academic freedom and freedom of expression on political disagreements or diverging views on government policy.”
Levy is not alone in his conviction, or in his decision to take this stance. In July, the heads of several Canadian universities including Queen’s, York and the University of Toronto made statements supporting the academic freedom of Israeli universities.
Queen’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor Karen Hitchcock said the proposed boycott violated “academic freedom, which is cherished by Queen’s and other universities around the world.”
Kere suspects Levy may have made the statement simply to follow suit.
Student groups at Queen’s were quick to denounce Hitchcock’s statement. In August, the Queen’s Coalition against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination protested the statement in support of Israeli academics, saying the absence of debate on the issue violated democratic principles.
At press time, both Ryerson Hillel and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights at Ryerson University had issued no comments.
Jaclyn Yurek, a third-year Radio and Television Arts student, did not know the president had issued any statement.
“For a strong enough statement like that, he should consult faculty and students before making any comments,” she said.
As for retracting the statement, Yurek is skeptical. “Who’s going to know if this is even retracted? It was months ago.”