YUFA speaks out on the case of Professor Aimé Avolonto

The following statement is a motion passed at the YUFA Special General Membership Meeting of July 8, 2021:

"At a Special General Membership Meeting held on July 8, 2021, the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) membership issued this public statement concerning the case of Prof. Aimé Avolonto.

Prof. Avolonto is a Black colleague in the Department of French Studies at Glendon College who faces dismissal proceedings following a questionable investigation process. Prof. Avolonto has launched four distinct complaints against York University at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), including one against York’s senior administrators for overriding a medical accommodation supported by two physicians and by an Independent Medical Examiner recommended by the University. Prof. Avolonto’s case has been reported by Radio-Canada, the CBC, the Toronto Star, and other media. Petitions and letters in support of Prof. Avolonto have been signed by tens of thousands of supporters, including students, faculty, and Black community members at York University, across Canada, and internationally."

We are concerned about the racist dynamics that have permeated the Employer’s responses to his allegations of anti-Black racism, which resonate with the experiences of other Black members of the York community and in the post-secondary sector. It is our view that one can appreciate and seek to address these dynamics without prejudging individual complaints lodged by and against Prof. Avolonto. It is also our view that doing so does not require that one adjudicate the relative importance of gender and race, or pit feminist and anti-racist perspectives against one another.

We are similarly concerned about the need to contribute to the urgent public discussion underway about systemic anti-Black racism on our campuses, which includes Prof. Avolonto’s case. We recognize that the Avolonto case is fraught because it involves multiple member-to-member complaint cases. However, the procedural and Equity issues raised by these events exceed the terrain of member-to-member complaints. The Employer’s actions have troubling and potentially far-reaching implications for all YUFA members. They also raise questions about the adequacy of some YUFA collective agreement provisions when race, gender, and/or disability are brought into the equation.

Given how problematically the Employer has handled the Avolonto case, including a highly dubious investigation process, we believe that the right and proper place for deciding whether the Article 15 process to terminate Prof. Avolonto should proceed lies with the HRTO. YUFA had requested that the Employer take no further action until an HRTO ruling. It is regrettable that the Employer has rejected YUFA’s request and that the senior administration continues to advance the Article 15 termination process, despite being named respondents in Prof. Avolonto’s human rights complaint.

In its June 2020 statement, “We must all join the fight against anti-Black racism,” YUFA made a public commitment to fight all forms of racism and inequality at York and within the union. As YUFA’s Executive stated: “We must acknowledge and validate the experiences of our Black, Indigenous, and racialized colleagues and learn from them.” The serious violation of rights that has occurred in the Avolonto case has dangerous implications for all YUFA members. These violations erode the prospect and expectation of just and equitable procedures, which in the end harms all members. It also lays bare the contradiction between York University’s public commitment to human rights and its actual practices at our institution and in its engagement with YUFA.

YUFA encourages its membership, as well as allied organizations in the social justice and labour movements, to speak out about anti-Black racism at York University and the worrisome actions of the administration, which seriously impact human rights, equity, free speech, and collegial governance at our institution."