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Letter to UofT President Meric Gertler, re responsibility to remove encampment from campus and restore order and respect, from Professor James Diamond

Dear President Gertler;


I hold the Joseph & Wolf Lebovic endowed Chair in the Religious Studies department at the University of Waterloo. It was a privilege for me to have participated this week as an invitee of the Pontifical Institute for Medieval Studies to deliver a presentation at a wonderful learned gathering of scholars sponsored by the J. RICHARD AND DOROTHY SHIFF CHAIR IN JEWISH STUDIES and THE ELIZABETH AND TONY COMPER FOUNDATION. I am taking the liberty of copying representatives of the families who have graciously endowed and supported the University’s endeavors, including Albert Friedberg who donated the invaluable Friedberg collection at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library who also attended our conference at the University. There are other such magnanimous donors I have copied who have contributed to the development of U of T as a world-class institution of higher learning. They should be apprised of your failure to put an end to what is an utter disgrace and dismal display of ‘lower’ learning, as I will describe in what follows, which serves only to erode what they have concretely helped build.


After our conference sessions on Monday afternoon, I proceeded onto one of my favorite walks across the campus accompanied by Prof. Kenneth Green, an esteemed and beloved professor at U of T of many decades, a walk I have been doing for over 50 years now. During that stroll we experienced a most humiliating, insulting, and offensive encounter, that has tarnished a treasured relationship with my alma mater.


As we passed by the appalling encampment that is both a physical and moral blight on Kings College Circle we were confronted by anything but what the University misguidedly considers, and misleadingly rationalizes, as freedom of expression.


A large group of what can only be described as masked thugs blocked my movement and maniacally and menacingly screamed obscenities at me such as “go back to your country”; “you will never get by me”; followed by a string of vulgar expletives unworthy of repeating. That in sum reflects the sort of ‘sophisticated’ level of speech being engaged in there that you are protecting.


There was U of T security personnel standing and observing nearby, who it seems are actually tasked by the University with preserving the encampment blight rather than protecting innocent bystanders. The ‘administration’ of the Circle has been totally abdicated for the benefit of this mob who exercises unimpeded control over who can enter and exit University property. Thus you have abandoned your responsibility and duty you owe to thousands of students and visitors, surrendering it to an insignificant number of threatening, screaming, members of a brutish assemblage. I can add ‘mindless’ as well, based on the tenor of their reactions and responses to me, a trait any University of course would be expected to at the very least discourage, if not to eliminate among its constituency. I assure you they do not in any shape or form represent the vast majority of students, alumni, and supporters of U of T. (If for some reason they do then the University suffers from a far deeper malignancy it must address.)


In fact, since they assiduously hid their faces with threatening symbols decidedly intended to identify with the perpetrators of one of the most barbaric atrocities in modern times, it is most likely that they are not even students.


To compound the egregiousness of their behaviour, their claim in barring me from walking freely within University grounds was based on the assertion that Kings College Circle is “indigenous land”! University security personnel stood by apathetically and refused to accommodate my request to be escorted safely on my long-standing walk and enjoyment of the campus.


The encampment behaviour and its control of a significant landmark on campus grounds is unambiguously being condoned and indeed encouraged by the University.


Have you ceded ownership of King’s Circle? Do you wish to preserve the ‘rights’ of a small band of unidentifiable individuals to harass, badger, offend, and trample on the ‘rights’ of virtually everyone else you are entrusted to provide with the most conducive environment for their education? How many legitimate events will you continue to cancel as you already have in abject submission to coercive intimidation? Are we to assume that the University stands behind the notion of dismantling our entire country since it is all ‘indigenous’ land? Your inaction speaks loudly as a positive response to these questions.


I graduated with three degrees from the University of Toronto (PhD 1999) and have always been proud of my scholarly pedigree. However, your encouragement of the very worst behaviour and the kind of regressive “expression” operating on the crudest of levels that are anathema to everything an institute of higher education stands for is a profound affront to the integrity of the University and its reputation.


At one point I even resorted to challenging those thugs illegally preventing me from walking in the direction I wished, to a reasoned debate in the classroom. Their response was to raise a large megaphone literally inches from my ears whose only message was to inflict physical pain rather than communicate in the preferred language of the academy- that of reason. As a result my ears are ringing to this very moment and there may very well be further consequences to that. While you have abdicated your responsibilities, as you well know you are not relieved of your legal liabilities for anything that occurs on the property.


The transition from the learned gathering I attended to that obnoxious encampment could not have been more pronounced. The latter asserts its authority by the level of decibels and perverse language with which it conveys its ‘positions’, while the former reflects all the values the University’s halls of learning traditionally have encouraged. Truly a descent from the sublime beauty of reasoned and mutually respectful dialogue to the very lowest degree of human discourse.


As an alumnus and as a scholar I and my colleagues have earned the right to be respected and heard over the din of a rabble that hijacks dialogue by force, commits illegal trespass, shuts down any meaningful conversation by aggressive gestures, disrupts university events, and obstructs others’ right to free movement, all of which you appear to be prioritizing in the name of nothing I can conceive of as legitimately advancing the noble aims of the University, its faculty, and its students.


There is no middle ground! Allowing this encampment to remain and grow amounts to an endorsement of its behaviour and its positions and sets a dangerous precedent the University will most certainly regret.


I will circulate this letter to every single supporter of U of T I can identify so that they can render their own informed decisions about whether your policy, or lack thereof, should impact on the future of their relationship with your institution.


I implore the administration to remove what has become a stain on its good name before it becomes indelible.


Sincerely yours,


Prof. James A. Diamond

Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Chair- Jewish Studies

University of Waterloo,

200 University Ave. W.

Waterloo, Ontario

Canada N2L 3G1

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2 Comments


You say that defending innocent civilians and children is a crime! And saying no to genocide is a barbaric action! Please talk logically so people would sympathize with your side.

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The behaviour at the University of Toronto objected to by Professir Diamond is unrelated to whatever is happening anywhere else, it was an antisemitic assault.

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